The young entrepreneur gives us insight into staying afloat in the craft beer distribution industry.
By Tom McLean
In the turbulent world of young entrepreneurship, it often helps to see the glass as half full. This is certainly the case for rising craft beer distributor Vasant Srimanothip and his business who, in spite of the world’s recent hardships, have been filling up more and more taps across the city with their specially-curated casks of hoppy goodness. Born and raised in Bangkok, Vasant’s professional calling has taken him from Ruamrudee International School (RIS) in Thailand, to undergoing a master’s degree in accounting and finance in the UK, to working as a strategy consultant at PwC, Singapore. However, a desire to run his own business, as well as a burgeoning love for tasty microbrews, saw him settling back into Thailand and forming Craft Nation.
How did you first become interested in craft beer?
I was studying in the UK when craft beer was booming there but I wasn’t really a big fan back then. Working in Singapore, I had this friend who was a massive craft beer fan and we ended up taking a trip out to Vietnam to do some tastings. We tried a beer called the Jasmine IPA, from Pasteur Street Brewing Co., and it blew me away. That was when I discovered that craft beer was something very different from regular lager. It’s more satisfying, there’s a lot of intriguing ingredients, and there’s a much greater variety of flavour. As a newbie, that Vietnamese brew just hit all the right notes.
What was the driving force behind establishing Craft Nation?
I began my working life as an investment banker and then a strategy consultant, working with a lot of CEOs and top-tier clientele, but I always wanted to start my own business. I had lived away from Thailand for eight years, pursuing my studies and career, but I always knew in my heart I’d be back one day. The question was: what would I do when I got there? As luck would have it, the answer came to me from a catch-up session with an old investment banking friend. We had a crazy, beer-fuelled evening and decided to start a company together. After a few months of exploring our ideas further, our plan was to bring in and sell some Asian craft brews from neighbouring countries. Vietnam was the first place that came to mind because that’s where I first fell in love with craft beer. We took a trip out there and after a solid week of tasting, we decided Belgo was the right one to bring in.
The popularity of craft beer in Thailand has surged over the past few years. What do you think has contributed to its success?
I think a lot of it comes from people who’ve lived abroad. There were guys from the States who missed their favourite beers and brought them across, and locals who’ve lived or travelled overseas wanted them. From that point on, word started to spread. I still think it’s quite a young industry in Thailand and a bit concentrated. In other countries you can brew locally, but Thailand hasn’t reached that point yet. Hopefully one day we’ll get there.
I founded a company! It’s my baby and that’s been my highpoint so far. Being able to figure things out and start your own business is an accomplishment in itself. With regards to lows, the economy hasn’t been great recently. Then we had the COVID-19 lockdown, along with a temporary ban on the sale of alcohol. Ultimately, however, these challenges have all proven to be an invaluable learning experience. You just have to be resilient and try to navigate through the hard times. Now is probably the worst time in decades to start any business but if we can survive and thrive throughout this rough patch, I think that would be one of my greatest achievements.
The Thai government has moved forward with a proposal to ban online alcohol sales. Can you weigh in on this?
I’m a bit biased, so I think it’s rather extreme. It’s hard to police the sale of alcohol. We should probably look at case studies from other countries – for example, I.D. cards upon delivery. There’s a 90-day grace period before it comes into effect, and hopefully they’ll come to a middle ground before it hits.
What advice would you give to other prospective business owners?
As a founder, there’s going to be a lot of sleepless nights where you’re questioning whether or not you’ve made the right decision. There’s always going to be that lingering doubt in the back of your mind and it always rears its ugly head when times are tough. My advice would be to stay grounded, remember that things will always go wrong, and do your best to figure ways around whatever issue inevitably pops up. What personally keeps me going is when everything finally comes together and just clicks. You’ll get a day when there’s huge orders, great feedback from customers, and you remember that people really like what you’re doing.
For more information on Craft Nation check out craftnationthailand.com
Pictures taken at Brewski at Radisson Blu Plaza Bangkok.