Craft support for craft beer
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha made a valid point when he recently said that the government is compelled to consider multiple issues when it comes to making it easier for craft beers and microbrews to go on sale legally.
Consumer safety, fair trade and an ability by producers to maintain standards and take responsibility if things go wrong must be taken into account as well -- not just a demand for new products, the premier said.
It is a pity Gen Prayut's meaningful message seems to have been obscured by his more colourful remark: "Would you drink beer that is brewed in a loo?"
The acerbic aside left a bitter aftertaste among microbrewery supporters. Some people even interpreted the premier's remark as demonstrating his disagreement over the possibility of small-scale boutique brewers being legalised. Leaving Gen Prayut's sarcasm aside, there is apparently no conflict over the issue. For small-scale craft beer producers to be legalised, a certain standardisation is necessary, and the government must show its willingness to prepare the ground.
Microbrewing has become a bubbling topic for public discussion during the past few weeks following news that a 28-year-old law graduate was arrested and fined 5,000 baht for producing home-brewed craft beer for sale.
The news report sparked outrage online as many people questioned whether it was time the government recognised the increasing demand from consumers for diverse kinds of beer instead of relying on a few well-established brands.
They also believe that opening up the monopolised beer market will nurture innovation, create equal opportunities for aspiring brewers and foster fairer competition which will benefit consumers in the end.
Microbrewery supporters also reasoned that support for microbreweries will create new businesses with a potential to add fizz to the tepid economy in need of new ideas.
One notable question that has come up during the craft beer debacle is whether it is necessary for the government to only give licences to beer producers on an industrial scale.
Under the finance minister's order in 2000, only two types of licences are available for beer production. The first is for large-scale industries with a capacity of no less than one million litres a year. The second is for brew pubs, which have to produce at least 100,000 litres a year for sale onsite with no bottling. To qualify for both types of licences, the producer must be a company with registered capital of no less than 10 million baht. Under the regulations, it is clear small-scale brewers have no chance of entering the beer market, estimated to be worth more than 180 billion baht last year and dominated by only three brands from two companies.
There seems to be no reason why this has to be the case. When it comes to liquor, the law allows co-ops to produce and sell distilled spirits on a small-scale basis. Why can't the same principle be applied in the case of beer production? As for concerns that opening up the beer business to smaller, more diverse producers could lead to people drinking more, experience from other countries does not suggest this is the case. This is on top of the fact that Thailand is among the countries with the strictest alcohol-control laws in the world.
While Gen Prayut is correct in pointing out that the government cannot follow any demands for new products blindly, a failure to catch up with the changing situation and new opportunities will result in exactly what he does not want to see. If the alcohol production law, which dates back to 1950 during the premiership of Field Marshal Phibulsonggram, cannot accommodate emerging demands from both consumers and producers, an underground business is likely to occur. A failure to maintain production standards and consumer safety will be the result.
Officials may not have caught up with the thirst for craft beer while development of this product is simply not recognised under the existing legal framework. Still, there is no reason why they should not start preparing the groundwork to take advantage of new trends and make sure it is developed properly.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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