Good news for monopolies and a few hobbyists. Bad news for everyone else.
In the wake of the cabinet announcing a new Alcohol Ministerial Order yesterday, the actual progressive alcohol bill draft was voted down in a House meeting today, falling just two votes short at 194-196.
Alcohol lovers barely had time to crack a beer at the cabinet’s rules before the draft so many had hoped would finally free up the sector—the Move Forward Party’s “sura khao na,” or progressive alcohol act—failed its second and third readings as well as a roll call to read again.
Under the new Alcohol Ministerial Order passed Tuesday, hobbyist brewers aged 20 and up may now brew up to 200 liters of alcohol annually for personal use under a noncommercial production licenses, and they can not sell their product. Facilities are required to be spacious enough to brew without disturbing others, and they must send samples to the Excise Department for quality checks. There’s currently no further information about where to apply for the license.
Also under the new rules, brew pubs—for example Tawandang German Brewery or Bootleg Brothers at Escape—no longer have a minimum liter requirement. The law used to require a capacity for a minimum of 100,000 liters and no more than 1 million liters per year. Producers must, however, apply for a factory permit with the Department of Industrial Works.
The cabinet’s order falls far short of what was expected of the progressive alcohol act. The progressive alcohol bill would have unlocked commercial options for small breweries, allowing small breweries to be able to brew and sell.
Back in June, the progressive alcohol law got through its first reading, making it one step—out of approximately 10 steps—closer to becoming a reality. Today, however, the bill was dealt a death blow and sent back to square one after being voted down by second and third readings, and also another roll-call voting.
Adding to worries, under the old regulations, brew pubs dealt with the Excise Department alone, but the new order passed on Tuesday by the ministerial order involves the Department of Industrial Works.
“For the homebrewers, now anyone can brew at home and people can start to develop their skills and try their hand at home brewing,” says Tak Achiravas, advisor at Loungphabang Brewery.
The selling-on-site-only strictures remain. Those wishing to bottle up and distribute must operate like a proper factory and report under the Pollution Control Department’s guidelines.
“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 says. “Fruit wines have been very good financially for our local farmers. They are easy to make and they are good money.”
The new order states that small local community distilleries from local farmers and villagers now have to be separate from their homes, must meet quality requirements from the Excise Department, and not harm the environment. Operations must be under five horsepower, have a team no larger than seven for the year first and operate without breaching the law for a year before being allowed to step up to 50 horsepower in the following years.
While the cabinet’s order allows hobbyist brewers to brew at home and has dropped the minimum requirements for brew pubs, involving the Department of Industrial Works could make things even more backward for small breweries or brew pubs. The alcohol brewing regulations allowed brew pubs to have capacity to make a minimum of 100,000 liters and no more than 1 million liters per year, for selling onsite only.
To bottle, can, and distribute alcohol in Thailand, brewers must make a minimum of 10 million liters per year. Local brewers therefore make their beers in neighboring countries like Cambodia, Laos, or Vietnam, and import them back in, selling beer as imported goods and facing hundreds of percent of taxes.
Only just over a week ago, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha gathered party representatives for a meeting to discuss the progressive alcohol act, claiming he’s worried about “health and safety” in the wake of the decriminalization of marijuana.