It's Hard to Thai One On

Valley guzzlers of Bud, Coors and other brews won't be crying in their beer over the scarcity of Singha, an imported malt liquor from Thailand. But for Thai-food lovers, it amounts to a gastronomic crisis. Panange curry without Singha is like cookies without milk.

Singha is no longer distributed in Arizona because the sole source of suds here, Phoenix Distributing Company, was bought out by Shamrock Distributing Company in March. Shamrock promptly dropped Singha, unable to locate its supplier. According to Tom Somoza, vice president and general manager, Shamrock has no plans to handle Singha. No other distributors have picked it up.

Wendy Nadler, assistant cellar master at AJ's Purveyor of Fine Foods at Central and Camelback, says demand for Singha has been strong since the store's supply ran out.

"It's an item that is actually being asked for by name when customers call, and they are disappointed when they find out we don't have it," Nadler says. "There are so many mediocre beers here, Singha is a good one that has a following. Some distributor should pick it up."

State liquor laws prevent retailers and restaurants from buying from out-of-state wholesalers, so those businesses can no longer import Singha.

However, dedicated connoisseurs willing to venture out can find Singha. Several Thai restaurants still offer it--proprietors say they stocked up before distribution was halted.

Other restaurateurs and retailers must wait until an Arizona distributor decides to supply the beer. In the interim, some are offering Erawan, a heavier, darker, Thai beer manufactured in--of all places--Minnesota.

Singha, a product of Boon Rawd Brewery Company in Bangkok, is the "undisputed champion of the billion-dollar-a-year industry" and has been the top beer in Thailand for more than 60 years, according to a February article in Modern Brewery Age, an industry journal.

Restaurant managers and retailers say they could get Singha from sources outside Arizona, but they won't risk their liquor licenses.

Myron Musfeldt, chief investigator for the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, says he wouldn't investigate Singha sales unless he got a complaint. "We would issue a citation for the first violation but wouldn't consider taking a license unless the violation is repeated," he says.

Terry Goodwin, assistant manager of Malee's on Main in Scottsdale, which isn't offering Singha, says brew that's still being sold in Arizona could be from the black market--not from Thailand, but from California.

"I'm not going to compromise my liquor license in any way, shape or form like that. Here in the Thai [restaurant] community that's something you don't want to do. If someone else has got it out for you, then they'll report you," Goodwin says, explaining that competition between Thai restaurants is fierce.

Even when an Arizona distributor was carrying Singha, Goodwin says, the supply was unreliable. "We would order it, but there were certain times during the year when the deliveries would get sporadic," she says.

Siam Imports Restaurant at 50th Avenue and Northern is one of four outlets New Times found that still has Singha. Siam Imports manager Prakong Garland says she has about ten cases of Singha because she stocked up on it before Phoenix Distributing Company was bought out. Others still selling the beer are Char's Thai Restaurant, at Rural and University in Tempe; the Siamese Cat on Price Road in Tempe; and Siamese Kitchen, at 43rd Avenue and Olive in Phoenix.

Since new shipments of Singha stopped when Shamrock bought out Phoenix Distributing Company, reserves being sold by Valley restaurants are nearing their recommended one-year shelf life (beer without preservatives has a six-month shelf life). It takes three to five weeks for a shipment to reach the United States from Thailand.

Michael John, general manager of Southern Wines and Spirits in Tempe, a major liquor distributor, says Singha is "a marvelous beer," but it is his understanding that the Singha brewery had trouble keeping up with demand. "We find it best to have products where we can maintain consistency, not only of quality but of availability," he says. "You just anger customers if you run them out of stock."

Because of that, he says, "We didn't consider carrying it.