This year, Oktoberfest rolls around with traditional beers coming under threat from a rising tide of boutique craft beers and diverse artisan microbrews.
By Dave Stamboulis
For those who like to quaff a good brew, there is no month better than October. Germany’s brew revelry contribution to the world, Oktoberfest, is celebrated just about everywhere by beer lovers and, naturally, Bangkokians, who will use any excuse for a party, welcome the festivities with open arms, and perhaps even more so this year with the arrival of so much amazing craft beer in the City of Angels.
Oktoberfest can be traced back to 1810, when German King Ludwig got married in Bavaria and threw a huge public party, which basically went over so well that it got repeated in subsequent years and eventually turned into Oktoberfest. These days, the mayor of Munich shouts out “Ozapft is” (the keg is tapped) and over 7 million litres of beer get consumed, along with tons of sausages and roast pork.
Craft beer, on the other hand, is a more recent invention, starting off in the 1970s in the UK with microbreweries creating local cask ales, and then spreading like a wildfire to the United States. In the Pacific Northwest, home brewers began creating bold and innovative tastes, making fresh beer using excess hops or experimenting with non-traditional brewing techniques. The microbrewing movement has revolutionised beer in America, creating a legion of aficionados who prefer a bottle of artisanal beer the way someone who has discovered a French fromagerie can no longer digest processed cheese.
Aaron Grieser, a lawyer based in Bangkok who grew up in Oregon drinking craft beer, was tired of lamenting the lack of quality beer in Bangkok, and when he met Brian Bartusch, another American who was doing a Le Cordon Bleu high-end cuisine programme here, the two decided to do something about bringing their passion for beer to the drinking scene by creating Beervana, a curatorship to distribute craft beer.
“The difference between craft and commercial beers is like the difference between listening to your favourite band on your iPhone and standing front row at their concert. There’s a much broader spectrum of flavour,” Grieser says.
The pair’s work seems to be paying dividends, as trendy pubs, bars and restaurants across town have begun stocking Beervana selections like Rogue, Lagunitas or Anderson Valley craft beers. Beer lovers can also become members of the distributor’s craft beer club, which lets folks order from around the world for delivery right to their door. Beervana helped Bangkok celebrate its first Craft Beer Festival in August, with beer coming from Singapore’s Brewerkz, Yo Ho Japanese Brewery, and Nørrebro from Denmark alongside all the US craft offerings, and the event was packed to the gills with hundreds of beer lovers welcoming the new arrivals. Restaurants like Smith and Quince have recently hosted gourmet feasts accompanied by craft beer pairings and these events look to become fixtures on the Bangkok dining and drinking scene.
“Craft beer is obviously beer, but it’s so different than what most people think of when they think of beer,” Grieser says. “It’s elevated, a lot like wine, is nuanced, and designed to be paired with food. We’ve been working with a lot of local chefs, and craft beer is the thing Thai food has always been waiting for. Besides, there is so much variety in craft beer that there’s something for everyone. The question isn’t whether you’ll like craft beer; it’s when you’ll find the beer you’ll love.”
Despite the harsh legal restrictions on tapping into the Thai beer market monopoly (operating a microbrewery is extravagantly taxed and pub-made ales are not allowed to be sold in supermarkets or outside pub premises), perhaps craft beer is here to stay. This Oktoberfest, why not try a down double imperial pale ale to wash down your sausages and sauerkraut?
The Beer Vault at Four Points by Sheraton has around 100 different bottled beers available from around the world ranging from fine craft beers from the US to draught Hoegaarden Rosé and is a laidback spot that is perfect for enjoying good beer. This sleek and comfy bar will celebrate Oktoberfest in style, with all Paulaner draughts and platters of German sausages available on a buy 1 get one free special for the entire month (Sukhumvit Soi 15; 02 309 3255; beervaultbangkok.com)
Bei Otto (1 Sukhumvit Soi 20; 02 262 0892; beiotto.com) provides a Black Forest atmosphere at its Schwarzwaldstube traditional German restaurant (main image) and bar. Oktoberfest will be held from October 31-November 2, with a band playing traditional Bavarian tunes to go with the Munich white sausage and Black Forest ham platters.
Brotzeit German Bier Bar and Restaurant (308 Thong Lor; 081 920 5929; brotzeit.co) serves up four types of Paulaner draught to wash down traditional favorites like weisswurst (Bavarian sausages served with pretzels) and tafelspitz (beef and apple horseradish). The heaped portions of sauerkraut and large jugs of wheat beer will make it seem like you are having October cheer right in the heart of Munich.
BREW Beers and Ciders (Seenspace, Thong Lor Soi 13; 02-185-2366; brewbkk.com) offers up the largest selection of draught and bottles of imported and craft beers in all of Thailand, over 200 bottles of different ales, stouts, ciders, and more. Celebrate Oktoberfest with a bottle of Boch Damn, a black beer from Munich, created in 1888 or any of the knock-out craft selections lined up on the bar.
Tawandang German Brewery (462/61 Rama III Road, 02 678 1114-6, htawandang.co.th) Bangkok’s largest microbrewery pours out pints of home brewed Dunkel, Lager and Weizen beer to the masses, along with large portions of deep-fried pork knuckle and plenty of live music every night. The brew master here is a Bavarian, and the 5.5 percent wheat beer is a winner.
Beervana will be hosting an IPA Challenge in October, where the public is invited to take a course on beer judging and does a blind judging of a field of IPAs submitted by Beervana and other fellow importers. You can join their craft beer club, order bottles, and of course find their elegant ales distributed in most of the places listed here and elsewhere. Check out seekbeervana.com or call 02-108-0387.