Mai, Mai! Craft in Thailand’s trendy north
Nestled in the mysterious, jungle-covered mountain ranges of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city combining ancient history with modern-day bohemia. Walking along its bustling streets you will pass ancient stone temples and shining golden ‘chedis’ on one side of the street, and hipster-smattered independent coffee shops on the other. This is the brave new face of Thailand, one that also happens to be the home of one of the country’s coolest craft beer brewers.
My Beer Friend showcases this old and modern juxtaposition perfectly – it has a taproom in central Chiang Mai on a cool side street just off the city’s main ring road, which actually goes around a moat where the ancient walled city used to be. It has only been established two years, but in that short time has built a reputation for itself as a forward-thinking brewer that is fiercely proud of its roots. Its typically stripped back bar pokes fun at Thailand’s incessant street signs with plenty of its own dotted along the ceiling, while its taps and fridges are dotted with only beers from Thai brewers (of which, you’ll be surprised to learn, there are plenty).
Most of My Beer Friend’s brews are IPAs or wheat beers, two styles incredibly easy to drink in the heat of a place that one taxi driver described to us as having two seasons – hot and hotter. Chiang Mai Accent is a citrusy wheat beer with light mouthfeel while Haze Survivor is one of its flagship pale ales that’s cloudy but with a slight sweetness. The real highlight of our tasting session was the extremely cloudy, punch and hop forward Nimmanian Supernova New England IPA , which was a juicy hit we really were not expecting.
The really interesting thing about My Beer Friend is that they have fought against the odds to be where they are. Brewing in Thailand is illegal unless a brewer brews in excess of 10 million litres per year. Obviously for a fledgling craft brewer, this simply ain’t going to happen. For now, My Beer Friend’s beers are brewed under their strict supervision in neighbouring Vietnam and Cambodia, then imported legally back into Thailand. It’s a roundabout way of doing things, but the brewer’s ultimate aim is to reach the point where it can have its own brewery in the city. Until then, the guys in the bar told us that their aim is to continue growing and popping up with bars in all corners of the city – it already has a second taproom playfully entitled Grumpy Old Men. It is a company that values and loves where it comes from and embodies the spirit of craft beer quite magnificently.