The Springs Taphouse: Great Canadian Craft Beer in Seoul

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Cheongdam location
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Kyungridan location

 

On a sunny afternoon, the day after Hallowe’en, I met with Mission Springs Sale Manager Ian Rodgers at their Kyundridan location here in Seoul, Korea. The Springs Taphouse is a Korean branch of Mission Springs Brewing Company in British Columbia that serve excellent Canadian craft beer and pizza. I ran into Ian at the GKBF and was blown away to find a Canadian craft beer company up and running here in Korea. I needed to learn more!

A group of us made plans to meet at The Springs Taphouse, and Ian kindly agreed to join us and answer some questions. Unfortunately, all my friends cancelled—one by one—because of their Hallowe’en hangovers. In the end it was Ian, my fiancée, and me.

Ian was a little tired from his first Itaewon Halloween experience the night before, but managed to meet us in good cheer. It was his first time visiting Korea and he was having a blast. Upon seeing him again, I couldn’t believe how much he looks like a young Baldwin brother.

Mission Springs Brewing Company was co-founded by Ian’s father, Brock Rodgers, during the craft beer boom in the 1990’s. The Brewmaster at Mission Springs, Kevin Winter, is an award-winner brewer who used to work with the Whistler Brewing Co. Their brewery is located near the Fraser River in the town of Mission, which is near Vancouver. They offer 10+ beers the whole year long, ranging from pilsner, IPA, stout, strong ale, radler, cream ale, and Scottish ale.

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Ian’s half-brother, Santino, successfully runs a few restaurants in Seoul that specialize in authentic Italian food. Santino had already started his business in Seoul and had been telling his father about the craft beer opportunity here for a while before Brock and Ian decided to give it a try. The Springs Taphouse arrived here last year with their imported beer and Santino overseeing their menu.

There is now a second location in Cheongdam-dong, near Apujeong Rodeo and Cheongdam stations. Ian was in town on this day to take care of some business: The Springs Taphouse hopes to open a third location on the main drag in Itaewon early in the new year.

Seoul is the only place outside of the lower mainland of BC that Mission Springs has expanded into. They currently run seven pubs throughout the Fraser Valley, with another opening soon in the ski-paradise of Whistler.

Ian said that their brewery gets along well with many of the other local breweries, even offering other local selections in their brewpubs. I asked Ian if he met any of the local guys here in Korea, as his Kyundridan location is so close to mainstays like Magpie, Craftworks, The Booth, and Maloney’s. Ian said that he had a chance to meet some of them and thought they were very nice. In particular, Ian seemed impressed with The Hand & Malt and their beers, but had nice things to say about everyone.

Ian ordered himself a Radler, which I’ve only ever seen at the Springs Taphouse. A Radler is a German style beer cocktail that blends a light lager with a fruit mix. The result is a refreshing drink that’s light on ABV and fruitier than other beers. This was probably a good choice for someone who had partied the night before.

I ordered the beer flight for 30,000won which is six 4oz beers. I selected the Trailblazer Pilsner, Old Sailor IPA, Strongman Strong Ale, Fat Guy Oatmeal Stout, McLennan’s Scotch Ale, and Fraser Valley IPA.

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I started with the Trailblazer Pilsner (4.5%abv). Pilsners are generally my least favorite style, which is common among people who’ve only recently retired from drinking mass-produced lagers like Hite, Cass, Miller, Molson, etc. However, this pilsner was remarkably good. Consequently, it just won the Gold Medal in the European Style Lager category at the Canadian Brewing Awards. I personally thought it was super clean and crisp, with a slight hop taste and barely detectable sweetness of the malt: very simple, elegant, and refreshing.

Deciding how to proceed was difficult. The basic rule of thumb is to start with the lightest beers and work your way up the darkness scale first, and then leave the hoppy IPAs for last. But I had dark beers, strong beers, and IPAs. Which beer wrecks the palate the most?

I chose the Old Sailor IPA (5.6%abv) as it was a lighter IPA. My first impression was of candy apple. It had a very balanced sweetness and is a great IPA for converting non-hopheads.

Next, I had the Strongman Strong Ale (8.0%abv). Mission Springs offers several strong beers, which is very welcome! The Strongman tastes like Irish whiskey at the front, with dark fruit at the finish. Very nice and warming.

The Fat Guy Oatmeal Stout (5.6%) had a nice, velvety darkness with the bready sweetness of a Danish pastry.

The McLennan’s Scotch Ale (8.0%abv) had a chewy butterscotch flavor at the front, with a finish like a rum mixed with cherry Coke.

I saved the heavier and hoppier IPA for last. The Fraser Valley IPA (6.6%abv) is named for the Fraser Valley of BC, which is where the hops for this IPA are grown: a unique ingredient, indeed! The Canadian hops give the beer a lemony zest like nothing I’ve ever experienced in an IPA before. The aftertaste transitioned from lemon meringue pie to whiskey sour. Although the Fraser IPA is unique, I enjoyed the Old Sailor IPA more because of its balance; but I could see the Fraser IPA growing on me with repeat tastings.

Overall, I enjoyed the Strongman Strong Ale and the Trailblazer Pilsner the most, but I thought all of their beers were well crafted.

I asked Ian if he was thinking of importing bottled beers for sale here in Korea, but he said that they couldn’t work the finances in a reasonable way. In fact, they wouldn’t have been able to do business at all in Korea until they found KeyKegs, which are disposable, lightweight kegs that keep their beer fresh during importation.

While discussing all this and sampling beers, we also tried their fantastic pizza. My girlfriend and I ordered Jimmy the Greek, as she is a vegetarian. It was quite a good Greek pizza, and it made us sad that our other friends didn’t get to share the experience with us.

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So… we just arranged plans for the following weekend at the Cheongdam location!

The Cheongdam location was a little harder to find. It’s near three different subway stations, but not really that close to any. We took the Apgujeong Rodeo route, and it was a 5-8min walk straight out of exit 2. Walk straight about three blocks and turn left at a Baskin-Robbins. The Cheongdam taphouse seats about 40 people, making it a little bigger than the Kyungridan location. It also has tables big enough for our group of eight, while the Kyungridan location is basically a long, narrow room that is best for dates and pairs.

The menu here was exactly the same, but the interior was nicer. We had a great view of the street from the second floor, and of the very nice pizza oven. The food and beer was predictably great, and everyone had a blast. Some of the others tired the Cherry Bomb and the Big Chief Cream Ale, which were both big hits!

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A few days after Ian answered my questions, he became the focus of some bigger media outlets than Craft Beer Asia. Ian appeared first on CBC Radio, and then online at CBC.ca and the British Columbia’s The Province. If you’re Canadian, you know that these are some of the biggest media outlets in the country.

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