tropical beer notes #8 – clash of the thai-tans

Singha Lager Thailand 5%

Chang Beer Thailand 6.4%

We’ve drunk our way from Hat Yai to Mae Sariang so it’s time to report in on the two most famous and frequently savoured Thai beers. Thailand is a beer drinker’s paradise. There is nowhere you can’t find a life-giving ale: street corners; temple gates; internet cafes; deserted beaches. A steward offered me an icy bottle seconds after our train crossed the border from Malaysia. What a lovely country.

Chang and Singha (pronounced ‘sing’) divide the Thai beer market between them; there is no third.. It’s like the olden days in Perthland when Swan and Emu where the beginning and end of choice. “Dodd’s been on the birds”, as they’d have said.

Chang is the young Turk of the two. Only launched in ’95, it has successfully chipped away at Singha’s long-held dominance so it now controls 60% of the Thai beer market. Chang’s rise and rise has been largely thanks to aggressive marketing, comparative cheapness and very high alcohol content. It’s made by the giant Thai Beverage Public Company Limited – listed in Singapore it has a market cap of about USD$4 billion. Rumor has it that Heineken taught them how to make the stuff before the Thais broke off the relationship.

Singha does things differently. It was first first brewed in 1933 and is still made by Boon Rawd Brewery, a private family company on its fourth generation of management. The Singha website devotes as much space to production promotion as their community work. I especially like the can – it’s charmingly retro and kind of reminds me of Dad’s Swan Light back in the America’s Cup days. The bottom is painted white – how cool is that?! Yeah, yeah, but when did you last see a can with a painted underside? Anyhow, obviously this is not a company that is interested in fashion.

Singha did drop the alcohol content back a few years ago from 6%  to 5% which makes it a better drop. The late great beer hunter Michael Jackson never believed that it was that strong anyhow, but you have to wonder if Singha did a “new Coke” as the change has pretty much coincided with its demise.

When it comes to taste they are both pretty standard lagers. Chang has slight bitterness with a sweet finish; it’s too strong and the alcohol overwhelms the already weakish flavours (plus consumption of more than three tends to lead to early morning “Chang dry horrors”, as Catie and I have dubbed them). The Thais often mix it with ice, which does weirdly improve things. I give it 10/20. I prefer Singha: it tastes simply like beer, a bit of malt and hops; a nicely balanced commercial style lager. It wins by a (ruddy) nose: 11/20.

Just as a final note – it’s worth mentioning that the Chang being consumed outside of Thailand is technically a different beer with an alcohol content of 5%. A savvy move to avoid tax overseas and keep the punters at home happy.

By far the best ever photo anyone has ever taken of a Chang:

Pic courtesy of Rob and Critter

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2 Responses to “tropical beer notes #8 – clash of the thai-tans”

  1. bubba Says:

    This is becoming disasterous!
    I know these beers and I know that you need at least 1/3 ice to make it of any value and it has to be drinkeded on a very hot day.
    What is the solution to this misery?

  2. Manas Says:

    I don’t think I ever realised how much I needed beer until that moment.

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