The Top Thai Beers
Beer has been around in Thailand since the early 1930s after being introduced by visitors from European shores. It quickly caught on as a popular alternative to some of the local alcoholic beverages that were (and still are) made from the more readily available rice stocks of this largely agricultural region.
The Thais have been brewing their own brands of ‘beer’ since not long after it was introduced into the country. The term beer is used rather generally though, as in Thailand the term refers mainly to what Europeans would consider ‘lager’, although in recent years, and through the influence of imported beers, the Thais have started to consider that there is more to the term than simply an ice-cold lager (with ice in it!).
The Boon Rawd Brewery Company was one of the first to capitalize on the new trend and remains today one of the giants of the Thai brewing industry, with around 70% of the market share, followed by Thai Beverage and Thai Asia Pacific. And although imported beers have become more popular over the last couple of decades, it is these three companies and their respective brands of beer that dominate the local Thai market.
In fact, for most locals, it might be fair to say that beer in Thailand could be narrowed down to just three brands (the first three covered in this article, with two of them produced by the same company).
That said, the young and upwardly-mobile newer generations of Thais have displayed preferences for expensive imported beers such as Stella Artois and Hoegarden, made popular by the gamut of trendy beer bars that have sprung up in some areas in recent years and cater mainly to affluent young Thais.
And trendy craft beer has also been trying to force its hand for a while now, with many of the new brands even having found their way into local 7-Elevens (broadening the seemingly limited choices of beer available for so long to many a would-be connoisseur), but apparently this has been stifled somewhat by some of the Thai laws related to brewing.
However, it is more the ‘grassroots’, popular local brands that form the mainstay of our focus for this particular article, beginning with the undoubtedly three (or four) most popular before veering into more recent introductions to the market, and a few sideline brands that may have been around for a while but have never really come close enough in popularity for one reason or another to challenge the top three (or four) beers in Thailand.
Leo Beer (which, like all of the others listed here is actually a lager) is apparently Thailand’s best-selling beer.
There are a number of factors as to why this might be – but generally many people in the past wanted to steer clear of the notoriously strong Chang beer (which has now undergone a few modifications). Then there were those who didn’t like the taste of Singha and others who thought the higher-class Heineken too expensive. So, Leo became the ‘middle’ beer in Thailand – not too strong (though not too weak) and not too expensive.
Most Thai beers have a 5% ABV (again something that has undergone a few variations and modifications in recent years), and Leo is no exception, but this beer is considered by locals to be more ‘drinkable’ than some of the other brands, with a smoother, more palatable flavour than that of the competition.
Prices may vary slightly in bars and restaurants, but if buying from 7-Elevens a large bottle of Leo will retail somewhere around 70 baht, and a small can just over half of that. This is slightly more than a Chang and just slightly less than a few of the other beers – hence the ‘medium’ tag that this top Thai beer is known for.
You will probably note that, as most of them are aimed largely at the male population in the country, most Thai beers are named after some kind of large or powerful animal, mythical or otherwise. Chang beer is no different, with ‘chang’ being the Thai word for elephant, and possibly signifying this ‘huge’ beer among beers.
Chang has traditionally always been known as the budget Thai beer with an extra ‘kick’ (formerly being of a volume reportedly anywhere between the 6.4% listed on the bottle and as much as 10% due to the slackness of quality control). This made it immensely popular with a particular kind of clientele (notably labourers in Thailand), and went some way to giving the beer something of a ‘lo-so’ status among locals.
However, all things must change it seems, and Chang has undergone something of a revamp in recent years, thanks in no small part to its football sponsorship and massive advertising campaigns along with stricter quality control measures that have even gained a particular strain of the beer ‘European Quality’ status, even winning awards.
In 2015 Chang changed its formula to meet more reliable and acceptable quality standards, bringing out a few variations on the brand such as Chang Light, Chang Draught, and Chang Export. Eventually, all of the offshoots bit the dust and were consolidated into what is now known as Chang Classic. This produced a smoother, more reliable taste (and strength) much to the chagrin of many former Chang aficionados, but managed to make the beer the second biggest seller after Leo.
Beer Chang remains a firm favourite among a section of locals (mainly football fans these days) and is a common sight in any bar, restaurant, or convenience store in Thailand. Produced by the country’s second-largest brewery company, Thai Beverage, it typically retains a price lower than its competitors like Leo and Singha, although this has crept up as the beer stakes its claim as a quality, drinkable standard among Thai beers.
Another top Thai beer named after a powerful creature, with ‘Singha’ being the Thai word for lion (although it originates from Sanskrit in regard to an ancient mythical creature).
Singha, brewed by Thailand’s first and biggest brewery Boon Rawd (as is its ‘competitor’ Leo), was not surprisingly the first beer produced in the country.
Although this top Thai beer is not everyone’s first choice, as we have seen already, those who are aligned with this long-standing brand consider it to have a superior, clean, crisp taste compared to the other choices on offer.
This pale lager has the standard ABV of 5% which has never really changed or been altered and is probably the most well-known in other countries – or at least it was before Chang’s Premier League sponsorship and advertising.
Because of its reputation and possibly slightly higher quality than some other brands, Singha (or ‘Beer Sing’ to locals) is slightly more expensive than the standard competition, hence is not always the preferred beverage of travellers on a budget. A large bottle at 7-Eleven prices is likely to be edging more towards the 80-baht mark these days, just to give some idea of the difference in price, with small cans, as is the standard in Thailand, being slightly more expensive than half of that – so you always get more ‘bang for your buck’ with the bigger bottles.
Maybe not considered a Thai beer at all by many people but rather a famous Dutch brand. That is not strictly untrue — however, after becoming the most popular imported beer in Thailand (once the previous favourite Carlsberg had made its exit after a dispute with Thai Bev over Chang ingredients), The Asia Pacific Brewery (the third biggest in Thailand ) began brewing and marketing Heineken in 1995.
Heineken is, in fact, a firm favourite in Thailand, being viewed as superior in taste and quality by many due to its European heritage. This is reflected in the price of course, but as it is produced in the country it remains within the limits of affordability compared to the other brands.
Marketed by the company as ‘by far Thailand’s most popular beer’ – which might be disputable – it is certainly considered the best-tasting by many, whether they actually opt for it or not. The price difference between Heineken and the other 3 previous options is not actually that vast – maybe 10 baht or so by way of the 7-Eleven price-gauging system – but this being Asia, that is considered enough of a margin to put this in more of a ‘middle-class drinker’ bracket as far as many locals are concerned.
Another beer not strictly originating from Thailand (actually from Singapore), but also produced in Thailand by Thai Asia Pacific (TAP) since 2004 (so no real competitor of Heineken – just another angle on locally-brewed-imported-brands).
TAP started brewing Tiger, in its own words, ‘to cater for the diverse and discerning needs of Thai consumers’ – make of that what you will – but certainly, Tiger seems to appeal to those in Thailand who (like Heineken drinkers to some degree) would rather steer clear of the more obvious home-grown brands for whatever reason.
Yet another 5% lager with its name taken from a powerful animal, this beer is priced slightly lower than its label-mate Heineken, and typically just slightly above the ‘local’ brands, although it has to be said that any beer drinker who is visiting Thailand, especially when comparing prices to those in a European country, probably won’t even think there is that much in it in terms of the differences between the brands available here.
The only real, obvious price differences between beers in Thailand are those between draught and bottled beers, and the recently-popular, trendy imported European draught beers which are roughly three times the price of any local beer.
Another TAP brand launched in 2005, Cheers is a Thai beer that aims to come across as more of a quality beer than some other local brands whilst maintaining a reasonable and affordable price.
Whether or not Cheers beer actually achieves this or not is somewhat debatable, although it has been a steady seller since its launch among those locals wishing to be slightly more adventurous from time to time.
The company also added another variation, Cheers X-Tra (a much stronger version at 6.5%) a few years later, and both of these beers, in their sparse but recognisable respective blue and red cans are easily found in any 7-Eleven somewhere near the other favourites.
Yet another beer on the ever-extending portfolio of the TAP (this time with a horse as its main emblem), Archa has traditionally long been in the cheap-and-cheerful yet potent bracket among locals, somewhere close to the former version of Chang and replacing the newer version of Chang for many hardcore local Thai beer drinkers.
Somewhat surprisingly, the advertising blurb often accompanying this beer, which was launched in 2005, touts it as ‘a response to the demands from a new generation of beer drinkers preferring smooth beer with a lower alcohol content’. Mmm. Ask the locals if you are in any doubt on that one, but again this Thai beer is one of the standards on offer in any 7-Eleven or convenience store, in a slightly lower bracket of price than most of the others.
Apparently accounting for 2% of the Thai beer market, Phuket Beer is worthy of being included on this list if only as a more exotic-sounding alternative to some of the others. This Thai beer was one of the first to show regional variation in terms of name, and its claim to fame has largely been from the fact that it is brewed from German hops and high-quality Thai Jasmine rice.
Seemingly it was this combination that made it one of the first Thai beer Gold Medal winners, making it a favourite among expats with its European aroma and malty tang.
Not quite as widely available as most as the others in this list but nevertheless Phuket Beer is still to be found in many 7-Elevens, at a price that is somewhere between ‘more than standard’ and ‘less than imported’. So, it is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive option but may provide a refreshing change of scene in terms of taste for anyone who is starting to find the Changs, Leos and Sings a little ‘samey’.