Buying a Beer – Are You Getting What You Paid For?
In a neighbouring country to Thailand there is a warning that all beer is 'fake'. All? Strong statement but the consensus seems to be that when you are buying any type of imported beer in this country beware as it is almost 100% certain it is 'replacement' beer i.e. fake. The original imported and expensive (relatively speaking) beer has been replaced by a cheap local brew and the bottle resealed. Insisting on the bottle being opened in front of you is no protection. Only your taste buds are.
What happens to the original beer? Who knows but there is apparently a healthy demand for empty imported international beer bottles with original labels intact!
Why 'beware'? Apart from not wanting to be 'ripped off' buying cheap local brew at the price of imported expensive beer – the real problem is that the replacement beer lacks the quality control, may be full of chemicals your body would rather do without and can be very strong alcohol % wise i.e. you might be drinking the equivalent of alcohol rocket fuel. Drink this beer 'normally' and you can get caught out and find yourself insensible with the mother of all hangovers the next day and have a bad dose of the Delhi belly.
Is this true? I don't really know – I just took it easy when I was in said country and later forgot about it.
So where does this story fit in with Thailand? Apart from the fact that this is almost certainly the first stage in the end of civilization as we know it – when I was in said country I was warned that its only a matter of time for this practice to come to Thailand in the interests of profit.
Has the practice arrived? You be the judge.
I and my friends are Bangkok-based expats and I'm talking about we all work for international companies on expat packages and have been here for time periods ranging from 6 to 10+ years. In other words we're probably what you might describe as 'discerning customers'. We all drink the same brand of beer.
A few weeks ago we went to a (shall remain nameless) ground floor gogo bar in Nana Plaza. We'd had a few of the same beer in other bars and all was well – our taste buds were sensitized. We ordered our normal beers and took our first sips. I'd like to say we all spat out the mouthfuls but that only happens in comedy strips and not in real life. However, we all agreed that our bodies would have thanked us if we had indeed spat it out. That's the problem with bottles with their thin necks versus big pint glasses – you can't very well spit the offending liquid back where it came from so easily.
We pointed our problem out to the waitress and the…er…larger than life papasan (or mamasan if you're wearing beer goggles) and there was no problem and no argument. A lot of Thai chatter which of course we can understand about say 50% of which I can best summarise as: these guys are regulars, live here and 'know everything'; give them replacements.
'Know everything' – not sure we do as we're from the school that the more time we spend here the less we actually know. But there was something about those 2 words linked to the replacement bottles which sounded suspicious – it was just too easy. Anyway, no problem – beers replaced and no issues with the liquid in the replacements.
Fast forward to this week. Same bar, same routine. Same problem – however, the taste of the liquid inside the obviously real bottle (complete with label) is so far off the planet it's almost comical. However, no replacements this time. This time the very camp papasan is called over and holds his ground continually pointing to the label on the bottle. So we have another mouthful – big mistake as I couldn't move out of my condo the next day as I had to stay within 10 metres of a bathroom all day – am I exaggerating? I wish!
Interesting sidenote here is we are all very quiet guys and don't like to make a fuss – all this was a low volume, low level conversation. However, all the ladyboy dancers (the 'not so nice' ones as we'd noticed a few Japanese customers leaving with the less obvious one's as we'd entered) were on the floor at the time and to a man (yes…a pun!) had stopped dancing and congregated opposite where we were sitting to watch events unfold. Why? It wasn't exactly an interesting scene – something was up!
We have a rule – no fuss and keep it quiet – so we simply paid for the bottles and asked for them to be taken away. We then stood up to leave and a few of the remaining ladyboys all cheered. I asked the waitress who we knew reasonably well why this was and her reply was: 'because you guys know too much'. You could take this as a compliment of course but in Thai speak we have translated it as 'we're not the type of customers that are wanted as we can't easily be fooled or ripped off'. Probably not true as we can be fooled as much as the next man – but not this night!
I mean what next in the demise of civilization as we know it – they'll be making fake lollipops if we're not careful.
Anyway, I'll let the name of the bar remain anonymous.
Note: what do I know about the brewing industry and identifying fake beer? Am I standing on some sort of moral high ground?
I worked for years in a pub paying my way through my higher education years – so no, it's not really enough to say I'm qualified to sit in judgement per se unless you add in years of drinking the same beer – you can judge for yourself.
Moral high ground? No I can't occupy that lofty position neither – when I worked in the pub one of my jobs was connecting the beer barrels to a barrel of water to water down the beer i.e. to make more profit per barrel. Another of my jobs was to collect the 'slops' and at the end of the night pour them back in the beer barrel! What can I say other than every pub does it – I think! Well, that's what the bar owner boss told me anyway.
It's common practice to lower costs and maximize profit in any business and some practices don't really stand up to scrutiny. I accept that the bottom line is we can't huff and puff about dodgy practices here as we're just as bad in our home countries.
However, beware – the fake beer practice might just have arrived in Thailand and apart from you might not be getting what you think you've paid for – if you drink a few of these you'd better make sure you haven't got anything too important on the next day!
I don't know anything about fake beer and this is the first I have heard of it. Obviously there *is* an issue in some bars with top shelf drinks being replaced or watered down with local rot gut, but beer?
There are only a few suppliers of alcohol to all the bars in Nana and I'd be very surprised if they were fooling around with the beer. I also cannot imagine the bars playing silly buggers with bottles of beer. They buy in bottles of Heineken, for example, at 33 baht, and it is sold in Nana Plaza gogo bars for between 145 and 165 baht. Let's just assume for a moment that the beer was fake (and I personally doubt that's the case here), what would they pay for "fake" beer. 20 baht a bottle perhaps. They're not going to risk alienating customers for an extra 13 baht profit per bottle.
I don't doubt that the beer tasted bad, but I'd put it down to something such as bad storage or a bad batch. Fake beer in the plaza just does not sound right to me!