It was a gorgeous autumn evening at the War Memorial, under leaves the colors of roasted malt and well-crafted beer: amber, nut brown, blonde, and straw. The GKBF had all the fun of an amazing pub experience with live music, lots of fun people, and tons of food and beer.
Last weekend’s Great Korean Beer Festival proved to be a big improvement over this past summer’s festival in many regards: The area was bigger, there were more beer vendors, the food selection was drastically improved, it was held over two days, and the lines moved much faster. Media Paran have really dialed in the Korean beer festival experience, offering one of the best times I’ve had all season.
However, because the event was now held over two days and in a bigger space, it didn’t feel as crowded as the last beer festival. Finding a seat was much easier than last year, and the fresh air and beautiful trees really gave it an ambiance they can’t be matched by any indoor venue.
The improvement over last season was noticeable from the get-go. The line-up for getting a wristband went much faster and smoother than last season, when people had to line up around Duke’s to get their free snacks. Although some of the snacks were alright, the line-up took forever, had no beer, and you were stuck carrying around a bag of so-so snacks all day.
In contrast, this season you got your wristband and went straight into the festival. With your wristband you got ten cash coupons that you could choose to spend on snacks, or just spend straight on the almost 100 types of beer. Consumer freedom!
The coupon system worked very well this season. Each coupon was worth 1000won and could be bought ten at a time. Food prices were about what you’d expect from a pub, with the beer prices being a little cheaper. And unlike a pub, you could purchase 1000won samples of beer or go for the whole 12oz cup.
Last year, several people argued that they paid too much for too little (which I argued against). This time, I heard very few complaints. Although some people paid 50,000won at the door (pre-bought tickets cost just 30,000won), most people realized they weren’t paying for the ten cash coupons, they were paying cover for the best event in the city.
The amount of booths at this season’s festival was truly impressive! My favorites were Smooth International, Hand & Malt, and Mission Springs. I didn’t try every booth, though, and I was particularly sorry that I missed BTR’s booth and their Unser Aventinus Wheat Doppelbock (8.2% abv) and Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel (11% abv)! Also, the France Gourmet food booth had a constant, massive line and smelled heavenly. Interestingly enough, Hootangtang’s Busan Original Fish Cakes sounded pretty good as well.
I only noticed these things after the fact, when looking at the fantastic GKBF booklet. Why hadn’t I seen this before? Media Paran did a perfect job laying out all the need-to-know info, maps, and what each booth offered, and a description of every beer. Most beers even had an IBU (International Bittering Units) count!
Upon entering the festival I accidentally, perhaps inevitably, separated myself from my fiancée and friends. Wide-eyed, I couldn’t help taking a quick lap around the festival grounds, whether my group followed me or not. I checked out the food and had a chat with the folks at both France Gourmet and Craftworks’ booths before stopping by Smooth International for a Widmer Brothers Okto Festival Ale.
My first long chat was with Rowan Chadwick at the Hand & Malt. Rowan works with this exciting new brewery and is also the heart, soul, legs, and brains behind the upcoming Fall Throwdown homebrew competition. All the guys at Hand & Malt have been doing an excellent job so far with their four beers: Mocha Stout, Extra Special Ale, Blanche de Hwado, and the Maloney Brewing Co.’s Southie Irish Red Ale. I had several friends tell me that the Hand & Malt served the best beers of the festival.
I was also blown away to see Mission Springs brewery. This was the first Canadian presence I’ve seen in the Korean beer scene since Big Rock. I had passed by their Kyungridan location, The Springs Taphouse, so many times without realizing that it wasn’t another cookie-cutter “craft beer” place that served only Indica IPA along, Paulander, Cass, and sausage platters.
Mission Springs is a brewery based out of the town of Mission, BC which is near Vancouver. They offer lots of amazing and unique beers that aren’t available anywhere else outside the lower mainland of British Columbia. Their Strongman Cascadian Ale (8% abv) had a powerful hint of Irish whiskey at the front with the sweet, smooth dark cherry finish.
Smooth International was also one of my favorite booths, which I say with a little hesitation. Normally, I like to support local Korean-made craft beer. But Smooth International imports some of the finest American craft beer including Widmer Brothers, Ninkasi, and Red Hook. Widmer Brothers’ Upheaval IPA has become one of my new favorites. Nearing the of the night, with a last handful of cash coupons, I spent them all on one full 12oz serving of Ninkasi’s Tricerahops Double IPA (85abv; 100IBU). Although I got out of the festival still in high spirits, this beer definitely put me to bed a little faster!
The GKBF had tons of other booths that offered great beer, food, and information. With about 2500 participants over the two days, every individual could have chosen their own unique experience. It was impossible to do everything, but that’s the charm of the GKBF.
Before heading home, I bounced around between groups of foreigners to get their thoughts. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Everybody I talked to thought that the price was fair, the beer selection was excellent, and the atmosphere was really fun.
I think Media Paran has figured out the beer festival here in Seoul. Coming up with any suggestions for them is a nearly impossible task. I’m very excited to see how they continue to grow and improve because they’ve shown they know exactly what they’re doing.