Beer Lao – It Tastes So Good!
Beer in Thailand has long been overshadowed by that of the beer of its neighbouring countries. However because of tight import laws and heavy taxation there has been little competition for the low to mid priced beers. With the advent of ASEAN agreements and various Free Trade Agreements things are beginning to change and markets are starting to be opened up.
For most farangs the biggest and most important change is an agreement between Thailand and Laos to get rid of barriers to each other's alcohol markets. A step-by-step process has now begun to reduce tariffs and duties on booze. This has led to the introduction of Beer Lao to the bars of Bangkok. Starting just a few months ago this little beauty of a brew started appearing at a few places in Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza.
The immense and immediate popularity of the beer surprised most of the ladies serving the drink to eager farangs. After all Laos is not viewed in incredibly high terms by many in Thailand because of its relatively low economic position, the country is seen as a poor neighbour whose workers have to come to Thailand illegally to make money.
But Beer Lao has managed to obtain a near mythical status amongst beer lovers in Thailand. Forced to swill often badly brewed and poorly conceived Thai beers Beer Lao has created a reputation by word of mouth alone. Critics and the media have routinely praised the beer; it was named Asia's best beer by Time Magazine and lauded as the Dom Perignon of Asian beers by the Bangkok Post.
Lao Brewery was established in 1971 and started production in 1973. It was initially a joint French – Lao venture but was nationalised in 1975 and remained under Lao Government control until outside investment was once again allowed in 1993. Since then a variety of investors including Thai, Italian and Danish consortiums have invested in the Brewery.
The beer itself is a testament to the brewing process and should be seen as an example of how to make a decent beer. Most important are the ingredients used. It is a true fusion of east and west with the water coming from streams flowing from the foothills of the Himalayas, the yeast from Germany and the malted barley from France.
The beer has yet to find it way south of Bangkok (NB it is now available in Samui), where it can now be reputedly be found in over 80 bars and restaurants. For a Phuket resident such as myself forced to drink bad beer at outrageous prices the temptation for a weekend jaunt to the city of angels was too much. My first port of call was Angelwitch in Nana Plaza to pop my Beer Lao cherry and indulge in some deep conversation.
The beer is crisp and resembles a very good French lager but the taste has an Asian quality no doubt attributable to the fine selection of ingredients used. Strict standards are adhered to in the brewing process with the water put through a sand filter and every step of the process is steeped in quality control checks that produce a really clean beer.
I spent two nights in Bangkok and drank Beer Lao exclusively. I did not get any kind of hangover and at about 100 baht a bottle is was no more expensive than my usual tipple of Heineken but far, far superior in taste and body.
Beer Lao is beginning to dominate the Bangkok bar scene and rightly so. The best price to be found is at the Big Mango in Nana, which has a great happy hour discount on the brew. The best place to buy in bulk is Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy with cases of the brew going for about 800 baht a go.
It seems that it won't be long until Beer Lao becomes a major player not only in Asia but in the rest of the world. It is already building a strong following in Australia and the distributor in the UK is said to be doing a roaring trade with customers being able to buy cases of the beer online for 25 pounds (minimum order two cases with free delivery) http://www.beerlao.co.uk/buy/.
The good news for beer drinkers in Samui is that they can now find this most drinkable brew in the Green Mango bar and the Solo Club as well as in some places in Chaweng Beach. It has yet to reach the shores (or bars) of Phuket but the national distributor is now looking to see if there is any interest in bars on the island (I have already emailed and told them there certainly is). Any bar owner interested in stocking Beer Lao can email [email protected] .
The popularity of this beer is well deserved and will hopefully give the Thai beer industry something to think about whilst they are swilling their bottles of chemically altered brown water they dare to call beer.
I must admit that I LOVE Beer Lao – it is easily my favourite beer.