When Thailand’s craft beer scene started to boom nearly a decade ago, Champ Vongsawad was keen to jump in. He imported brewing equipment and built a small brewery inside his house.
It did not take long for Champ to find partners in what amounted to both crime, and business.
With cheese maker Petch Boonchoochuay and businessman Manak Narula, they called themselves the Bootleg Brothers.
Recently, the Bootleg Brothers opened its own microbrewery and brewpub on a breezy roof of the luxury EmQuartier shopping mall, where they make and serve craft beers like white IPA Stay Wit Me, pilsner Escaplis, and Island Hopper.
“You can say we’ve gone from the underground to the rooftop,” Champ said as he sipped a dark-colored Naughty Nut.
‘A true Thai craft beer?’
Like many Thai brewers in Thailand held back by draconian laws; Champ, Petch, Manak in earlier days would fly to Australia to brew. They then imported it back home as a foreign product.
Enthusiasts may recognize some of their beers, such as Khaosan pale lager, Mr. Galactic porter, and Peak A Brew IPA.
But that was impractical in the long run, Champ said. First was the expense of all the flights and hotels plus the daily cost of living in Australia while brewing.
Secondly was pride in their products.
“People have been asking us why we have to go through so much to sell craft beer in Thailand,” Champ said. “And one question keeps coming back to us: If we keep brewing beer abroad, how can we call it a true Thai craft beer?”
That’s how the trio came up with the idea to brew on their own terms on their own home turf – downtown Bangkok. They found the perfect location: Escape Bangkok inside the EmQuartier shopping mall.
From there, it was a matter of following the bizarre laws laid out in the 2008 Alcoholic Beverage Control Act and outdated 1950 Liquor Act. The first step to obtain a license was to show registered capital of THB10 million (US$300,000) – a lot of money, but not impossible. Another was to have the “capacity” to produce at least 100,000 liters per year.
Then they were set to go.
On a recent Thursday, seven tanks and nine taps were pouring their craft beer. The three brainstorm and come up with new flavors. What’s on offer now varies from their familiar brown ale Naughty Nut, hoppy lager Island Hopper, to super hop-forward pale ale Boy Wonder and well-balanced German-style helles lager Khaosan.
The beers will rotate periodically. A pint is THB300 and smaller glass is THB150.
Since the venue shares the same space with rooftop bar and restaurant Escape, customers can order Escape’s menu to go with the Bootleg Brothers’ drinks.
Soak up the bar’s beachy Bali vibes or the Phrom Phong skyline from a cozy balcony spot. To share with friends, try the Appetizer Board (THB890). It comes with calamari, chicken wings, pork ribs, and lemongrass prawns. Escape’s big menu goes on with burgers, tacos, noodles, and Thai dishes.
Bootleg Brothers Brew Pub is located inside Escape on the fifth floor of the EmQuartier shopping mall. It’s open 5pm until late every day.