Amid strict regulation and fierce competition, a Belgian expat in Cha Am is showing true entrepreneurial spirit having opened his own craft alcohol distillery and chocolate making facility.
Fifty five year old Ronny De Wolf hails from Wieze in Belgium, an area well known for its beer brewing and chocolate making.
Prior to moving to Cha Am, Ronny had a varied and interesting career. A serial entrepreneur, at one time he was running five different businesses, which included an exhibition organiser, a food truck operation and a brewery.
And after spending just five minutes in Ronny’s company, you can’t help but warm to his infectious personality and his passion for his distillery and chocolate making (more on that later).
Since 2014, Ronny and his partner Jaeb have been distilling alcohol from their premises in Cha Am.
Ronny began making gin but today makes a range of spirits including white rum, made from real Thai sugarcane, vodka, grappa, and an assortment of flavoured liquors.
What started out as a four year process to become fully regulated and licensed and in a position to be able to distill alcohol commercially, Ronny and Jaeb’s Kiss Distillery is now able to produce 5,000 bottles of spirits per week.
“The whole alcohol industry in Thailand is so strictly regulated”, Ronny explains.
“But for me that is a good thing, because it helps to ensure quality.
“We are inspected every six months, last time about ten officials visited to make sure everything we are doing is ok,” Ronny said.
He uses distillation machinery imported from Germany, which Ronny thinks there are probably only one or two of a kind in all of Thailand.
Initially Ronny and Jaeb thought they would be able to easily sell their products to the bars in Pattaya. But after arriving on the eastern seaboard, their enthusiasm took a bit of a hit after being turned down by bar owners who thought their craft products could not match those of the famous alcohol brands.
It wasn’t until Ronny had the idea of a new approach, that would see them teach the staff at the bars how to make cocktails using his spirits that bar owners began to take interest.
“They had cocktails on the menu, but we found that staff in many of the bars did not know how to make them properly”.
“We began training the staff how to make cocktails and even creating special menus for the bars which is when the bar owners started to become interested”, Ronny explained.
The bar owners then discovered that Ronny’s products were significantly more affordable and just as good quality as the bigger named brands, so they started placing orders.
Ronny and Jaeb now visit Pattaya every week and supply to a number of businesses. They also count some major hotel chains as their customers, including Movenpick and So Sofitel.
Ronny also explains that almost all of the ingredients that are used in his products are locally sourced, grown nearby and bought from local farmers.
“Most of the fruit we use for flavouring is grown in Kaeng Krachan,” Ronny explains.
“All the bananas for example come from our farm in Kaeng Krachan, all the sugar cane is grown locally, as is the cocoa we use in our chocolate”.
“We help to support the local economy, which helps our customers save money”, Ronny says.
As well as distilling alcohol, Ronny and Jaeb also produce Belgium chocolate, under their Mister Chocolate brand.
They use special self designed and self made machines to ferment, dry and roast the cocoa beans.
“We use 100 percent cocoa butter in all of our chocolate, which gives it a unique taste”, Ronny said.