“Large one small one?”
“Large one, please!”
Few things beat lounging on the beach or in the pool, enjoying a Koh Samui sunset with a chilled beer in hand. We’re sure many of you will agree with that sentiment. But a far more difficult question seems to be, which Thai beer is the best?
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Thai beer 101: What’s the best Thai beer?
1. The Easy Answer
The easy answer is any of them. You’ve already got your feet up (proverbially, of course – learn what not to do with your feet in Thailand), and you’ve got your sunset. It would take far more than an average beer to wipe that smile from your face. Of course, when there’s the luxury of choice, and there often is, the choosing isn’t nearly so simple….
Singha is probably the best known Thai beer outside of Thailand. Partnerships with Manchester United and Chelsea Football Clubs and the F1 Red Bull Racing Team have helped to raise its international profile, but equally, so have its distinctive flavour and relatively high alcohol content. Singha is characterised by a strong malty flavour which makes it a perfect drinking companion with something like a massaman curry. It complements salty and heavily seasoned dishes, but also happens to be the most drinkable Thai beer when had by itself too.
Singha does not contain formaldehyde: At some point during your stay in Thailand, you’ll probably hear an old hand sagely informing you that no one “in-the-know” drinks Singha because it “contains formaldehyde”. From what we’ve read, this is almost certainly just a myth.
One last thing you should know about Singha: it’s a pretty strong lager. While it’s been reduced from a sturdy 6% ABV to a slightly more common 5%, this is still stronger than the 3-4% lagers seen elsewhere in the world.
3. Chang vs Singha?
As common as Singha in Thailand is Chang Beer. Chang is comparable to Singha in terms of strength, but it’s characterised by a much more traditional lager taste, akin to Tiger, Budweiser and Tsingdao. This can make it more refreshing than Singha when tackling a particularly spicy dish, and probably also makes it more suitable to fish and other sea food, where you don’t want to overpower the flavour of the food with the flavour of the beer.
For some reason, we’ve found that several restaurants only stock Chang in the large bottles, and not Singha, so chances are you’ll find yourself trying it at some point even if, like us, you prefer Singha.
Other Thai and regional beers
There are some other great beers in South East Asia which can be much harder to come across but which, if you do, you simply must try.
Leo is generously described as “non-premium”, and perhaps more frequently, “swill”. Try it if you must, but don’t fear that you’ll be missing out if you don’t!
Beerlao is brewed in Vientiane, in neighbouring Laos. This delicious beer is difficult to find in Samui but well worth trying if you see it. Its clear French influence rides at the forefront – crisp & floral – and a dark variety, similar in style to a German bock, is available too.
Consistently stands out amongst Vietnam’s excellent beer options.
Probably Cambodia’s best offering, and not to be confused with Anchor Beer, an inferior brew.
European and Australian Beers
If you’re homesick, or just looking for a bit of variety, a fairly limited selection of beers from outside the region is available if you’re prepared to look, too. Paulaner, Leffe Blonde and Brune and Erdinger are available sporadically, both in supermarkets such as Tesco-Lotus and selected restaurants (typically the more upmarket ones, such as in larger hotels). A supply of island Aussie bars will easily keep you in Fosters and VB.
Tip: Aid your ordering in remote Thai locations (where English is less prevalent than in tourist spots), or just try to impress your bar-tender with a small Thai dictionary. We’ll give you a hint: ‘yai’ (rhymes with ‘why’) will indicate that you want a big bottle.
Beer on Koh Samui?
So where can you find the best beer on Samui? For refreshing afternoons, great nights out (plus help to find good coffee and a forgiving breakfast), The Koh Samui Guide will help every aspect of your Samui hydration and sustenance (including price comparisons, duty-free tips), and anything you want to see and do.
Let the taste-testing begin
Of course, if you’re in the country for a few days, you should try as many as you can. You might find a new favourite. It’s also good to keep in mind Thailand’s hot climate and the speed with which you can dehydrate during the course of the day.
Always have a bottle of water to hand (and try to drink a fresh coconut every day), and most importantly – drink responsibly, and never drink and drive. That’s what songthaews are for. Enjoy!