Brew-haha: Homebrewing bill doomed by watered-down cabinet compromise

A staff at Brewave brewpub in Bangkok dispenses craft beer from taps.
A staff at Brewave brewpub in Bangkok dispenses craft beer from taps.

A cabinet maneuver succeeded in undermining support for a progressive brewing bill, eroding its support enough to see it narrowly rejected in parliament yesterday. 

The opposition’s popular Sura Kaona (Booze Forward Act), which would have struck a blow against Thailand’s alcohol oligopoly, failed its second and third readings and was rejected in two roll call votes seeking its return to the floor after enough of its original supporters changed their votes following the adoption of several piecemeal reforms.

After a 174-177 roll call vote with 11 abstentions, Move Forward Party MP Natthaphong Ruengpanyawut asked the house meeting’s chairman for a second. There it went down 194-196, effectively ending its prospects.  

The beer activist-turned-MP who sponsored the bill, Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, posted a picture with party leader Pita Limjaroenrat in which they both made a wai as a gesture of apology to the people who expected the bill to pass.

“I’m sorry for not succeeding. Tomorrow, I will fight on. Will you cheer me on?” Taopiphop wrote. 

After Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha came out strongly against the bill and in support of the oligopoly, his cabinet-promoted compromise – legalizing hobbyist production for personal consumption and relaxing rules on brewpubs – caused enough lawmakers from his ruling coalition to fall in line, primarily from the old guard Democrat Party.

Under new regulations enacted Tuesday on the eve of the vote, hobbyist brewers 20 and up may now produce up to 200 liters of alcohol annually for personal use under a noncommercial production license. Their facilities are required to be spacious enough to brew “without disturbing others,” and they must send samples to the Excise Department for quality control. No information was released on where or how to obtain such licenses.

Also under the new rules, brewpubs such as Tawandang German Brewery, Brewave or Bootleg Brothers no longer have minimum capacity requirements to meet. Producers must, however, apply for a factory permit with the Industrial Works Department.

Here are 6 microbreweries in Bangkok to visit for crisp, cold beers

The cabinet’s order fell far short of what was in the progressive alcohol act. The bill would have unlocked commercial options for small breweries, allowing small breweries to be able to produce and sell. 

“For the homebrewers, now anyone can brew at home and people can start to develop their skills and try their hand at home brewing,” said Achiravas “Tak” Vanasrisawasd, a brewery adviser familiar with the legal constraints on production. He has been working in the beverage industry for decades.

The new measures pose no competitive threat to the big brewers. Homebrewers may not sell their wares; brewpubs can still only sell on-site.

Brewing trouble

The new rules introduce additional complications. Instead of the Excise Department being the sole regulatory agency, production oversight now is also granted to the Industrial Works Department.

The new order states that small local community distilleries operated by local farmers and in small communities must be separate from their homes, must meet quality requirements from the Excise Department and not harm the environment. Operations must use low–power equipment, have teams no larger than seven for the year first and operate without breaching the law for a year before being allowed to step up to more powerful equipment.

Tak, who serves as the president of Thai Craft Beer Association, said there would be additional unforeseen consequences, particularly for local farmers.

“With this new order, it’s going to affect the local farmers who have been making fruit wines as now they can no longer sell,” Tak said. “Fruit wines have been very good financially for our local farmers. They are easy to make and they are good money.”

Just last week, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha made clear his opposition to the popular opposition bill in a meeting with party representatives, where he told them he was concerned about “health and safety” and preferred brewing left to established corporate producers.

Related

Homebrewing gets OK by Thai cabinet – with limits

Prayuth cites ‘health and safety’ to attack popular homebrewing bill

Here are 6 microbreweries in Bangkok to visit for crisp, cold beers

Hope brews after Thai lawmakers say cheers to booze reform bill

‘This law is absurd’: Thais prosecuted for discussing beer say enough is enough

The original version  of this story appeared in BK.



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