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Interview: Avi Yashaya (Mahanakhon/Sivilai)

A partner of two Thai craft beer brands Mahanakhon and Sivilai, Avi Yashaya shares his unique point of view on Thailand’s craft beer culture.

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CRAFT beer in Thailand is an odd subject. ‘What is the beer in Thailand?’ is the kind of question that often gets a limited answer.

Thailand’s most popular beers – notably Singha and Chang – are admirable brews in their own right. However, a sip of either beer doesn’t capture the diversity of the Thailand’s bubbling, mostly underground craft beer scene.

Despite restrictive brewing regulations, high import duties and an oligopolistic beer market, a band of pioneer brewers defy the odds and strive on.

Avi Yashaya is one of those strivers. As an early initiator of craft beer in Bangkok, Avi is well-postioned to give a unique point of view on the Thai metropolis’ emerging beer culture.

Avi started his craft beer journey in Bangkok through homebrewing. While this may seem inauspicious to foreign readers, Thailand’s homebrewers produce surprisingly good quality and drinkable beers – and have played a much greater and more extended role in the country’s craft beer development than many other countries in Asia.

He began organising craft beer events, which eventually culminated in co-founding Let The Boy Die, one of the Bangkok’s first craft beer bars.

Long since leaving his humble home brewing beginnings behind, Avi has subsequently gone on to be a partner in two well-regarded and widely distributed Thai craft breweries.

Introducing Avi Yashaya

How did you end up working in craft beer in Bangkok?

I actually stumbled into Thai craft beer during its very early stages.

I was looking for local homebrewers who could help me source equipment and ingredients so I could continue one of my favorite hobbies from back home.

I realized there were only a handful of people who were homebrewing in Thailand and already making some pretty robust and promising beers.

Then my focus shifted towards finding these guys an audience who could appreciate what they were doing and grow the community.

It snowballed into events and eventually a bar (Let the Boy Die) where we could swap inspiration between us all.

You are a partner in two well-regarded Thai craft beer brands, Mahanakhon and Sivilai. Can you tell our readers a bit about each brand, and how they came to be?

Mahanakhon was the original, I remember meeting the founder, Tony Tumwattana, while setting up one of the bigger early homebrew events.

I was really impressed with the potential of the beer lineup he shared with me and how in touch he was with designing beers that could excite the local palette.

When Let the Boy Die opened we would constantly push each other to make interesting new recipes with local ingredients.

I made sure he always had a playground to try new things and we developed a few pretty nice beers together. Naturally, when he was one of the first to legally bring in Thai craft beer with his White Ale, I wanted to be more involved.

We then designed Sivilai as a response to what we saw was lacking in the market and an entry point for young Thai’s who were interested in craft beer but saw the prices and styles as unapproachable.

It’s a really simple lager  but with an American hop profile and uncompromising ingredients (no adjuncts). It’s the beer we always start with and come back to at the end of the night.

We hear a lot about the challenges that craft brewers with Thailand’s restrictive brewing regulations. What is your take on rumours that regulations may be changing next year?

I’m personally not optimistic about regulations changing anytime soon, there’s just too many big interests at stake. But the ingenuity of Thai brewers never ceases to amaze me. Right now we are just focusing on finding the best environment with regards to quality of output, capacity, and cost. At the moment, Vietnam definitely has that formula. Let’s see if we can manage to band together and cooperatively tackle the volume restrictions, but I’m not expecting any support from the top.

You are one of the founders of Let The Boy Die, one of Bangkok’s best-known craft beer bars. What is it like running a craft bar in Thailand?

Let the Boy Die was originally a very loose and fun experiment. It definitely got the gears going for the local brewing community and sparked a lot of creativity.

Not all the beers served were up to standard all the time, but I find that to be a constructive part of any DIY movement, and it’s reaffirming to see quality getting better over time.

There were a lot of funny legal issues that kept rearing their head as well, being that it was an unlicensed venue and all.

Finally I’m not in a position to support it in its current form, it’s definitely lost its way and doesn’t really support the community or try to present higher quality beer anymore.

But I’m happy for the experience and the platform we helped give aspiring brewers.

We understand you’re originally from LA. Are there any brews stateside that you miss in Thailand?

There are so many beers I miss from back home stateside! But I go back somewhat frequently and always indulge while I’m there.

I honestly believe the meaning of craft beer is equivalent to local beer for many reasons.

First being that many of the beers I love most don’t travel well, freshness really is critical, especially with the hoppier styles and I’d rather go for a solid local version than a stellar bottle from the US that’s been sitting around for over a year.

But that’s just personal preference. Secondly I like the idea of supporting a local economy and creating enthusiasm for products that reflect wherever it is I’m at.

But if I’m gonna name names Los Angeles has developed some world class breweries and some of the best beers I’ve ever had… Cellador, Homage, Highland Park Brewery, Beachwood Brewing, and El Segundo just to name a few.

Tell us your current go-to beer from another brewer in Thailand.

I still like to chase the homebrews when they are around haha, some of the best definitely come from Baan Bangkok, Papa Tods, Hercules, Outlaw, and Two Ten. Sandport probably makes my favorite commercial offerings.

What are the prospects for craft beer in Thailand moving into 2020?

I think a lot will change in 2020, hopefully Thailand gets some love on the world stage.

But we will primarily continue to focus on getting Asian craft beer a bigger platform.

We recently knocked out a beautiful beer in collaboration with Pasteur Street from Saigon, would love to keep the ball rolling with some other regional breweries that inspire us!

Want to read more #BeerTalks interviews with the pioneers of craft beer in Asia? Check out our interviews with Andrew Strugnell of Riel Brewing (Cambodia), Tim Scott of Quan Ut Ut & BiaCraft (Vietnam) and Charles Guerrier of SEA Brew (Singapore/APAC).

By Oliver Woods

Oliver Woods is the founder of Beer Asia. He is a marketing strategist, co-founder of two ad agencies and craft beer enthusiast. Oliver is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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