Thailand’s oldest and most popular beer has been satisfying beer drinkers for over 75 years. In 1933, after royal approval from King Rama VII, the Boon Rawd Brewery began brewing Singha beer along the banks of the mighty Chao Phraya River. At their location in Prathum Thani, a province north of Bangkok, the goal was to create a local brew which could replace imported beers. While imported beers can still be found in Thailand, the formula appears to be working. Today with 3 breweries across the country (Khon Kaen, Nakhon Pathom and Prathum Thani) Singha maintains the status of the #1 beer in Thailand and is growing its popularity around the world.
I was curious to learn the history, see the brewing process, and of course taste test some fresh Singha; so I arranged a visit to tour the brewery. My journey began snaking through the cannals of Bangkok enroute to the Chao Phraya River. The plan: take the river boat express north to Nonthaburi then a short taxi ride to the brewery. The brewery is nestled deep at the end of a Soi off the main highway 345 and is literally on the river bank. To give an idea of how close; the October 2011 floods brought 2 meters of water over the river bank and significantly disrupted operations. A flood wall is now under construction to protect the facilities in the future.
A smile, a Wai and a “Sa Wat Dee Ka” were the greetings I received from my tour guide Khun Jatuporn upon arrival. After exchanging hello’s we proceeded to the tasting room to watch a video on the history, brewing process, social responsibility and global recognition of Singha Beer. A fun fact learned is that Singha is not the only beer produced on location. The brewery also produces Leo and Asahi. Asahi, from Japan, has contracted the company to brew its beer locally for distribution in Southeast Asia and Australia.
The next stop on the tour was the filling, labeling and packaging area. Unfortunately a strict no photo policy is enforced while on the tour. We entered the building on a catwalk high above the plant floor to the sound of clanking bottles moving down the bottling lines and hydraulic lifts moving palates stacked with beer ready for transport. The process functioned with military precision. After watching for a few minutes there was not doubt in my mind as to how they were capable of producing roughly 800,000 beers per day.
Continuing down the catwalk the sound of clanking glass faded away. Filling the air were the fragrant aromas of malted barley and hops. As we entered the Brew House my senses perked up and I could feel my thirst growing. Eight gigantic vats, each imported from Germany, stand prominently upon entry. To the left side sits the control room, which holds a slight resemblance to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Here a team sits in full uniform to monitor the entire process on computer screens. Their jobs are to make sure each station is running smoothly. Spanning the length of the back wall is the old push button process monitoring system, a bit of nostalgia from the past. The Brew House and the vats are where Singha puts its signature touch on each batch of beer heading through the brewing process; readying it for our consumption.
After seeing where the water & malt were mixed at a piping 50°C, where the hops were added and where the fermentation processes took place; it was time to taste the finished product. The tour concluded with a 1 hour tasting of Singha. We settled back into the tasting room where plates of sausages and seaweed strands were laid out as snacks to go along with the beer. I glanced over at the clock to check the time and realized it was Beer:30, about that time to have a few cold ones. I felt like a golden retriever waiting to fetch a frisbee as I waited for the first mug of ice-cold lager to be poured from the tap. The first glass was a treat. The golden color was traditionally Singha, yet the draft carried a slightly different taste from the bottles I’m used to buying in restaurants or markets. It was cold, fresh, crisp with a balanced dry and hoppy flavor. I’m guessing the difference in taste could be attributed to the proximity to where it was brewed and its born-on-date. Either way it was delicious, refreshing and went down smooth and easy. After a few more Singha’s and good conversation with Khun Jutaporn it was time to call an end to the tour. If you’re looking for a fun day trip in Bangkok that won’t be in most guide books, give the brewery a call and schedule a tour. The river boat is a fun ride, the brewing precess is interesting to see and of course you can’t beat the fresh beer!