A look into Boon Rawd Brewery’s history and most famous beer brands, Singha and Leo.
by Laurence Civil
Boon Rawd Brewery, which produces Singha and Leo beers, was founded by Boonrawd Srethabutra. He started dabbling in the logging business and acted as a car dealer before starting his own business ferrying Bangkokians across the Chao Praya River between Bangkok and Thonburi. At first the business was successful, then there were too many competitors, and finally the building of bridges across the river forced his business to close.
He dabbled on the idea of brewing a Thai-made beer in 1929 and requested permission from the government to build the first Thai brewery in 1930. Meanwhile, Srethabutra toured Germany and Denmark to study the art of making beer. His dream became a reality in 1933, when the first bottle of Thai beer, Singha Beer, rolled off the assembly line at Boon Rawd Brewery (www.boonrawd.co.th).
Boon Rawd became the official purveyors to the Royal Court of Thailand with the gracious appointment on October 25, 1939, and were granted the use of the Kingdom’s Garuda as well as the words “By Royal Permission.” HM King Prajadhipok Rama VII bestowed the aristocratic title of Phraya Bhirom Bhakdi.
The granting of the Garuda is rarely done; it’s usually given to institutions and companies that have been in service to the Royal Court for some time, uphold the quality of their products and services for the Kingdom’s population, are of good standing financially, and without a tarnished name, being an organization that can positively represent the Kingdom worldwide. Garuda signifies the trustworthiness of the company’s or organization’s operation in the Kingdom of Thailand. The brewery is still under the management of the third and fourth generations of Bhirom Bhakdi family.
The Singha logo was inspired by a Thai mythical creature in the form of a lion, the king of the jungle, which has long been a part of Thai history. It symbolizes power, strength, courage, leadership, dignity, loyalty, perseverance, and endurance.
When Boon Rawd pioneered brewing beer in Thailand, it looked to Germany’s GEA Brewing systems; GEA is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of brewery equipment. To set up the breweries, the equipment for raw material handling, brewhouse, cold process, and utilities—refrigeration plants and CO2 recovery—had to be installed, and Boon Rawd had to train its brewmasters in different universities and breweries in Germany.
Today Singha Corporation Co. Ltd. operates three breweries in Thailand. They are located at Samsen in Bangkok, Khon Kaen in the northeast and, for their newest brewery, at Banglen in Nakornpathom province, 70 kilometers northwest of Bangkok. The Thai–German beer brewing relationship has been a long-term one, and the same company, GEA Brewing Systems, installed all the equipment at the Banglen brewery to double its brewing capacity.
We recently went out to the brewery to get an insight into how the beer everyone loves is made and bottled. Boon Rawd brews beer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The bottling plant has to shut down for an hour a day to count the number of bottles and cans filled that day and give the process a little break.
Currently, the Banglen Brewery is dedicated to brewing the Leo Brand, one of Thailand’s most popular budget beers. It’s an American adjunct lager with 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV); a light-bodied, pale, fizzy beer with low bitterness, thin malts, and moderate alcohol—a beer where the focus is less on flavor and more on mass production. The cereals used are more unmalted grains, such as rice and corn.
Boon Rawd’s core brand Singha—a premium larger—is brewed at the Samsen and Khon Kaen breweries from the finest ingredients. The barley is imported from Australia, and each brewery stores sufficient stock for three months’ production. It’s a full-bodied malted barley beer with 5 percent ABV, similar in strength to Leo, although this beer has a distinctively rich taste with a strong hops character. Singha Light is made from the same quality ingredients but contains less alcohol—3.5 percent ABV—and it has a surprisingly smooth and uniquely refreshing taste.
Boon Rawd did experiment with brewing the beer overseas and bought two German breweries in Hartmannsdorf and Mittweida in Saxony in 1994. Singha Gold for the European market was produced at these breweries until 2001. It was then decided that for a truly authentic Thai taste, the beer had to be brewed in Thailand. Brewing of Singha beer ceased in Germany, and now all brands are produced only in Thailand to ensure that the original taste is worldwide.
Singha is heavily involved with sports sponsorships. In the world of Formula 1, they partner with Red Bull, a brand with similar aspirations. In the world of Premier League football, they are global partners of Manchester United and Chelsea FC. It’s the exclusive beer served at both clubs’ grounds, Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. And Singha Beer is indeed the perfect partner worldwide for British football and Thai food.