Cross-border beer: Thailand’s craft beer dream brewed in Cambodia

With small-scale beer production prohibited in their home country Thailand, Stone Head is a beer start-up taken across the international border to Cambodia for the purpose of survival.

Head brewer Sermsak Tangsiripatpron with a range of Stone Head beer in Koh Kong, Cambodia. (Photo: Jack Board)

Nestled strategically close to the Thailand border, Stone Head is a company in a unique form of exile with beer being brewed by mavericks.

With small-scale beer production prohibited in their home country, this is ostensibly a beer start-up taken across international borders for the purpose of survival.

Space Craft is one of the beer brands being brewed in the Stone Head facility. (Photo: Jack Board)

On site, there is a distinct earthy aroma of boiling malt and hops in the air and a dozen or so polished silver fermenting tanks are slowly transforming raw ingredients into a variety of first-class craft creations.

The modest set-up looks similar to other boutique breweries growing in abundance around the world, but here each drop is being forged out of defiance.

On the final product, the words “First Thai legal craft beer” are emblazoned. It is clear that these brewers are the obstinate type. “The name Stone Head, it means we are stubborn,” explains one of the group’s founders, Dusadee Thummarat.

The slogans on his t-shirt further explain the attitudes of the Stone Head crew.
“They tried to bury us – They didn’t know we were seed,” reads his shirtfront. “Taste of Freedom – Served with Pride,” adorns the back.

Dusadee Thummarat examines one of his company’s creations. (Photo: Jack Board)

The craft beer industry has been made essentially illegal in Thailand. The law states that beer manufacturers must have a minimum output of ten million litres per year, which amounts to about 30,000 bottles. As an indicator, Stone Head produces about 2 per cent of that target annually.

Companies must also have about US$300,000 in upfront capital, an almost impossible requirement for budding brewers. If they continue to produce, as many do in secret, they face jail time or fines from authorities.

“Making beer is illegal for a small-scale producer like us, so everyone who is doing it, is doing an illegal thing. So we thought that we needed to find a place to do it legally,” Dusadee said.

It forced their move across to Cambodia where operations eventually began two years ago.


Stone Head has more than ten clients who use their facility and knowledge to create their own beers. (Photo: Jack Board)

Stone Head is now producing beers that have never been seen before, using ingredients sourced from the local region like lemongrass, galangal and butterfly peas. The latter is normally used in sweet tea but has been modified to create a bright violet wheat beer.So too the Black Bean Bock, which has a strong aroma of vanilla, butter and black beans, inspired by a traditional Thai dessert served with sticky rice. The result is a complex, full-bodied beer with a lingering sweetness.


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