Summary of the Korean Craft Beer Scene in 2016

It’s alive!

That’s really the shortest way to put it. The craft beer scene in Korea hasn’t fully grown or developed yet, but there’s no denying that it’s alive.

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When I started writing for this blog in the summer of 2013 with my first summary, I really didn’t know where to get craft beer outside of Craftworks and Magpie. It was mostly Cass, Hite, and some big brewery imports. There were other ways to get your hands on good beer known only by savvy expats and Koreans; ways to find  a bottle of Lost Coast or Anderson Valley or even some good homebrew. But for most people, you had to go to Kyungridan.

Ever since then, the scene has been expanding noticeably about every 3-6 months. Soon after I wrote the first summary, Itaewon starting exploding with craft beer. Reilly’s Taphouse had a big selection of imports and almost every hip foreign/fusion restaurant had Lost Coast’s Indica IPA or something similar. Today there’s a zillion places to get a great selection of beer.

I live in Gangnam. Although it’s arguably one of the liveliest and richest neighborhoods in Korea,  I just didn’t know where to find craft beer. I was over the moon when the Star Super grocery store at Dogok Station started selling some imports. Fast-forward two years and I can go to Band of Brewers, three different locations of The Booth, Hopscotch, Funky Taphouse, Boutique B, Pong Dang, or Craftbros.

Areas all over Korea are being infected with the craft beer bug. Busan’s Gwangalli Beach is a new haven that rivals any neighborhood in Seoul. Gwangju, Gangneung, Daejeon, Daegu, Incheon… they all have craft beer.

And there’s tons of places that I, as a non-adventurous foreigner, will never hear about. Places that sell Platinum, Ka-Brew, or 7Brau. There’s hundreds or even thousands of people in the business of craft beer now and it’s become impossible to keep up.

More new breweries are opening up soon. Magpie and Craftworks are both expected to open breweries this Spring. Platinum just opened a Korean location. The Booth is re-launching their brewery this January. There’s more and more Korean spots opening up that I can’t keep track of. There’s still too much re-branding, cross-contract brewing, and beers that don’t advertise where they’re from. It’s still a bit of a jungle. But the fact that there’s so much of it, after just 2.5 years since I’ve started looking, is incredible. And within the scene there’s so much good stuff.

As this is what it comes down to. What’s there to be excited about? For someone who’s just visiting or has just moved to Korea, what’s the bottom line?

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Spotlight: Redpoint Brewing Company – Taiwan

Many countries in Asia are growing thirsty for craft beer. Although developments have not been as rapid in Taiwan, more homegrown breweries are churning out vessels of their brews as we speak. Over time, craft beer has caught up, with a band of 20-ish breweries open today and growing. Numerous bars and venues are adding craft beer to their list of offerings.

Redpoint Brewing Company was founded in 2014 and have come to open a full fledged brewing facility today with a capacity of 50,000L/month. 2 Americans who began as homebrewers, successfully made the leap to professional brewing. Here’s Spencer and Doug with their story.

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“Scaling new heights!”

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Spotlight: On Tap Fresh Beer

On Tap fresh beer has been raising some froth in Singapore lately. Following up on Smith Street Taps lead in draft beers cum hawker fare, they have established themselves at a number of locations – ex Newton, Serangoon Gardens, Chinatown Complex in addition to the production joint in Bukit Batok.

Production facility? Yes, we’re getting there – they do brew their own beers locally. I sat down with Mario Nube – their Brewmaster, who was happy to share with me his thoughts on brewing beer.

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Best of 2015 in Korean Craft Beer

Craft Beer Asia’s Best of 2015 for Korea

Since starting the Korean part of this blog in the summer of 2013, a lot has changed in the Korean Craft Beer scene.

This list is a tip of the hat to what I think were the highlights of this past year. This is not an official list or a consensus. I didn’t try all the beers or visit all the pubs. And perhaps some of the candidates were more 2014 than 2015. Deal with it. This is just my personal favorite things in 2015. It is biased, in a sense, but there’s no craft beer place or person in the country that I have a grudge against.

Best Pub of 2015

The First Alleyway (Gwangju)
Pong Dang (Garosu-gil, Seoul)
Galmegi Brewery (Gwangalli Beach, Busan)
CraftBros (Seoraemaeul, Seoul)
Four Seasons (Itaewon, Seoul)

Lots of great, great places that I love have been left off this list. I love going to Reilly’s, Maloneys, Magpie, The Booth, and many more. Plus, there’s lots of great places I haven’t visited yet. The inclusion of The First Alleyway might surprise many who haven’t heard of it or read my pub crawl in Gwangju. I love it because it’s just my favorite space in the country. The food, the friendliness, the games! Galmegi, CraftBros, and Four Seasons all do their own beer. Galmegi has amazing pizza. CraftBros is probably the best bottle shop in the country. But my winner for 2015 is Pong Dang.

Pong Dang has the craziest rotating tap selection in the country. They seem to have a new tap takeover every other week: Magpie, Ballast Point, Upright, Barrel/cask aged imports, etc. They also serve their own contract brews and have been one of the only places in Seoul I’ve been able to find Galmegi and Wild Waves. Throw in a Street Fighter II Turbo arcade game and my bias towards Gangnam locations and we have a winner!

Best Korean Craft Beer of 2015

Maloney’s Combat Zone 2.0
Galmegi’s Hallabong Gose
Hand & Malt’s Chyung Pyung Harvest Ale
Magpie’s The Last Train Baltic Porter
Hand and Malt’s Barrel-Aged Mocha Stout

I’m hugely biased here. I clearly favor Hand & Malt, Magpie, and Galmegi and if I made this list a top 10, probably at least 8-9 spots would go to those three breweries (Maloney’s is brewed at Hand & Malt). It’s hard to leave off the Hand & Malt’s Slow IPA, which many would think is a better choice than the Barrel-aged Mocha Stout which was a little too strong on the bourbon but was new and daring. Also, I love many of the contract brews available at CraftBros, Four Seasons, and Pong Dang. Craftworks did a solid job with their summer series. And my personal favorite might have been Galmegi’s Doljanchi IIPA which didn’t even make the list.

The Combat Zone relaunched at Phillies this year with a little more balance in the hops, bringing more to the aroma and less to the hop bite. The Hallabong Gose is, I think, the single best introductory sour ale with its very light sour and salt touch rounding out the beautiful hallabong citrus and peachy yeast notes. The Chyung Pyung Harvest Ale, the first made with Korean hops, was underwhelming at first. I thought it was slightly vegetal at the launch. After trying it again at Reilly’s, I was surprised with how much more floral and balanced it was! Always give a beer a second chance! What you ate, the time of day, or anything else can change your perception of it. But my winner for 2015 is Magpie’s The Last Train Baltic Porter.

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From Magpie’s Facebook page. Magpie also has the coolest artwork for their beers.

Magpie’s Porter was among the first true Korean Craft Beers and remains a very solid choice in today’s crowding market. The Last Train seems to ramp up all that roasty gorgeousness to the max, weighing in at 8%. Fermented slowly at lower temperatures, this is a gorgeous beer. I almost picked Magpie’s A Bird in the Hand RyePA, but realized that was more of a 2014 beer.

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First BJCP Exam in Singapore

On the 5th of December 2015 – we had a first – a BJCP tasting exam conducted in Singapore. In the past, the best options available to us were to either take the exam in locations such as Hong Kong or Australia, but the Singapore Craft Brew Club and Neo Say Wee successfully coordinated with Scott of the BJCP to have him fly in while in the region, to proctor the exam.

Over the course of 3 months, the candidates subjected themselves to rigorous study and beer styles education in order to gain a broad understanding of flavors, faults, ingredients and history – in order to make the cut for the BJCP.

Along the way there was some inevitable fallout due to time commitment and busy schedules. Nevertheless at the final exam, we had a full turnout of 15 with 2 candidates from overseas filling the spots.

Here we are with some photos of the actual exam – everyone working their noses hard.

In all honesty the exam was really kind to the candidates – we were not given intentionally doctored beers, and the last beer of the flight was a pleasant Stone Ruination 2.0. There was not much to complain about. An amusing reveal was that an ABC Stout(local, tropical) was entered as an American Stout and actually scored well on the whole – shows that commercial, macro beers are indeed well made.

And it’s a 2 month wait to know our results – if we passed or failed. Big thanks to Scott, Neo, the club and all volunteers who made this possible, as well as a great experience for us all.

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A Day of Craft Beer in Mumbai

Craft Beer Asia took a little trip to Mumbai in 2015 to check out the local craft beer scene in the city. For those of you with a day to spare and want to check out some great local craft beer, here is what you need to know.

Our craft beer day begins in Colaba where art deco buildings and history are abound. Opposite the historic Regal Cinema is The Woodside Inn, a Gastropub featuring American and European fare along with some local spins. One of the most important local spins at this establishment is the lineup of Gateway Beers on tap. Gateway is Mumbai’s first microbrewery offering various styles of craft beer on tap throughout the Mumbai area.

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The Woodside Inn, Mumbai

After a great lunch and fine ales, time to walk off a few calories before making our way to stop #2 on our Craft Beer trail through Mumbai. It’s off to Lower Parel district to the North and The One Indiabulls Center. This is an office complex and inside the facility is The White Owl, a brewpub featuring house brews and a very delicious menu for dinner. You may have to ask the guard how to find the pub, but once you do, you will be glad you did.

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Follow the signs within One Indiabulls Center to The White Owl for a wonderful dining and drinking experience.

Brewer, Mayhul Patel, came from a history in the India wine industry before shifting gears into the craft beer world. Mayhem is passionate about his craft and has big dreams for the craft beer culture in India.

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Brewer Mayhul Patel and myself talking craft beer while enjoying some White Owl craft beers.

After a very satisfying dinner. It’s time to make a short hike or taxi ride to Mumbai’s original brewpub, The Barking Deer. The Barking Deer is the creation of American, Gregory Kroitzsh who after a lot of patience to obtain a license in Alcohol paranoid Mumbai, opened a world class brewpub to set the stage for the craft beer scene in the city.

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The Barking Deer Brewpub in Mumbai.

The Barking Deer features ongoing special events including a great comedy night when I was there. I had the privilege of meeting brewer, Varsha Bhat, whose passion and intelligence will serve India’s craft beer scene well in the years to come. A tip for a late night snack to go with your Barking Deer craft beer is the Chicken Tikka grilled on the patio. Mmmmmmmm……

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Thanks to Varsha Bhat, brewer at The Barking Deer, for the tour and passionate discussions about Craft Beer.

As late night settles in and the need to burn a few calories becomes evident, head next door to The Blue Frog Lounge for some fantastic live music, dancing and of course… Craft Beer. The Blue Frog has taps flowing that contain Mumbai’s Gateway Brewing.

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A Day of Craft Beer in Hong Kong

Craft Beer Asia attended Beertopia in Hong Kong in October of 2015. After the event, I spent a day enjoying some fine craft beer establishments in the city. The next time you find yourself with a day to spare, why not make it a Craft Beer Day in Hong Kong!

Breakfast (and Craft Beer) at The Globe – Garely Building, 45-53 Graham Street

With 18 rotating taps and an extensive bottle list featuring local, European and American craft beers, this place is perfect for a morning brew or two and some breakfast. I opted for a sampler of local craft beer.

The Globe, Hong Kong

A Breakfast Beer Sampler at The Globe, Hong Kong

Don’t forget breakfast! The Globe offers some tasty treats to go with your morning Ales. I went for the Beans (Peas) on Toast with Scrambled Egg. This offered some energy to hike around the city before our next stop.

Globe Hong Kong Craft Beer and Breakfast

A great beer pairing is the Beans on Toast for breakfast.

Lunch (and Craft Beer) at The Roundhouse – No. 62 Peel Street

After I walked off the beers for breakfast, not hard to do in Hong Kong with all the hills, I settled in to an afternoon of craft beer and barbecue at The Roundhouse Taproom. With 26 craft beers from around the world, and a great bottle selection, this place offered some good conversation with the staff and patrons who came and went all afternoon.

 

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The Roundhouse Taproom in Hong Kong

Craft Beer from all over the world.

Roundhouse offers Craft Beer from all over the world including BrewDog from Scotland, Great Islands from The Philippines and Dead Frog from Canada. Thanks to my friend Mags from Great Islands Craft Brewing in The Philippines for this picture that I stole from his Facebook Page.

Dinner (and Craft Beer) at Beer & Fish – 67 Staunton Street

A cozy little fish and chips joint tucked into a busy street corner in Hong Kong offers an eclectic selection of imported craft beers both in bottle and on their four taps. The place is small but fantastic for people watching as the evening sets in. I had some Mikkeller Beer and BrewDog from the taps while enjoying some fantastic Fish & Chips with Mushy Peas. The bottle list included, among others, Japanese Craft Beer, Hitachino Nest.

Craft Beer and Fish & chips at "Beer & Fish" in Hong Kong.

Beer & Fish in Hong Kong is a cozy little place offering fish & chips, craft beer and People Watching.

If the night is not too far gone, it’s time to start over, as each venue offers a completely different atmosphere depending on the time of day you are patronizing. Overall, craft beer is alive and well in Hong Kong.

 

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