Media Paran co-founder Kang Da-mi pours me a glass of Clown Shoes Undead Imperial Stout and welcomes me to take a seat in their small office a few steps outside of Itaewon. Sipping craft beer isn’t unusual at the office of this young, small company. Media Paran has been busy lately, with three consecutive months of beer festivals this spring. The other co-founder, Kyung-hee, turns on some music as I take a seat.
The first event I covered for CraftBeerAsia.com was a beer festival at Food Week in COEX back in 2013. I didn’t know it at the time, but that festival was hosted by Media Paran. It was their first one. I asked Da-mi how they grew from a small PR and advertising company to become the most successful organizer of craft beer events in South Korea.
“One of our biggest clients was COEX. COEX is hosting Food Week Exhibition every year. They wanted to promote Food Week to foreigners in Korea and they asked us to promote some event to really drag [ex-pats] to the exhibition. Kyung-hee and I used to work for 10 Magazine and also used to hang out in Itaewon a lot. We are kind of Itaewon expert[s]. So we knew craft beer [was] going to be really big. We asked COEX if we could host a beer fest under Food Week. We got that idea from Kyungridan Beer Festival with homebrewers, hosted by Bill Miller.”
Although it was only a year and a half ago, suggesting a craft beer event at a major commercial mall like COEX was even more radical than it is now. It had simply not been done before. Plus, COEX wanted ex-pats—but not necessarily drunk ones. Predictably, Media Paran’s suggestion was met with skepticism.
“When we first suggested the idea to COEX, they really didn’t like it because they were worried about drunk people. So we talked to Bill and others who had hosted events before and they said we don’t need to worry about it because they are… special drunk (laughs)… they are professional drink[ers].”
Da-mi and Kyung-hee pointed out the success and civility of the previous homebrew festivals. They acknowledge that they owe a lot to the established local craft beer experts: “Bill, and Dan Vroon from Craftworks, [were] like our mentors. We just loved the beer but we didn’t know what to prepare to pour the beer. Giovanni [from Seoul Brew Club], too.”
That first event at COEX was a big hit. COEX has since invited them back for another Food Week event, and Media Paran’s Great Korean Beer Festival will be a highlight of COEX’s first ever C-Festival from April 30th – May 3rd.
Although their first beer fest was a major success, the young company was not content to simply repeat their formula. The girls asked everybody for feedback on that event, and one thing kept coming up again and again: the early last call at 4pm. Consequently, they decided to host their own event called the Great Korean Beer Festival. The company once again turned to the established experts in the field for guidance.
“Kyung-hee and I decided to do it separately, but we hadn’t, like, hosted a festival before by ourselves. So we were a little worried about it. But we had our supporters like Bill, Dan, and others.”
With such quick success and rapid expansion comes added pressure.
“I think we [were] just having fun last year. We didn’t worry too much because we didn’t know about [hosting] festivals very well (laughs) so we were just like, ‘Let’s just do it. We can do it,’ you know? Because we didn’t know how hard it is. Now we know (laughs). It’s a lot of work. So now we are more, like, worried… more stressed.”
All the hard work was worth it. Although they were far too busy to enjoy the events at the time, Da-mi admitted that she almost cried when she saw a promotional video of the GKBF last Halloween: “When we saw the video from the festival we were like ‘wow, people really enjoy the festival.’”
As Media Paran have continued to improve their festival, customers have been getting better value, more beer, more food, and more space to congregate. I asked Da-mi if there was anything that Media Paran wanted to do at one of these festivals which they haven’t yet been able to do.
“First of all, more beers (laughs). We want to, like, exchange booths with other big beer festivals outside of Korea like Japan or Hong Kong’s Beertopia. So we can have [a] beer booth in Beertopia and they can have booths in our festival. We think people can launch their beer at our festival in the future.”
They also want to arrange for beer tasting contests involving both established brands and homebrews. Media Paran have reached out to judges at the Great American Beer Festival and will go overseas to observe the next one. They also intend on expanding to six regular events every year, including an event in Busan.
Their festivals will continue to showcase craft beer with a determination that is admirable. June’s festival at Everland will have a GKBF as well, thanks to that determination. The organizers at Everland envisioned a booth serving Hite to thirsty and tired parents. But Media Paran stuck to their guns. They showed the same promotional video that had Da-mi tearing up with pride, and Everland agreed to give craft beer a try.
Craft beer’s growth in Korea has many people to thank, but perhaps not enough people realize the role Media Paran has played since late 2013. If they didn’t convince COEX to let them do a craft beer festival—if their GKBF was never born—fewer people would have been exposed to craft beer. In promoting their events, Media Paran works hard to educate the Korean market about good beer. They’ve refused to serve Hite, Cass, and other popular adjunct lagers. They’ve even refused to allow rebranded craft beers.
As they continue, Media Paran will help craft beer penetrate into the Korean market; this will be needed if craft beer is to truly thrive in Korea.
Check out the listings for the three upcoming GKBF events and make sure to visit our events page for more information.
Visit the Great Korean Beer Festival Facebook page.
GKBF with C-Festival
Date : April 30th (Thur) to May 3rd (Sun)
Time : 11am to 9pm
Venue : SMTOWM plaza & G20 plaza area (Samseong Station Line 2, Exit 5 and 6, just outside COEX Mall)
Date : May 30th (Sat) and 31st (Sun)
Time : Sat: 5pm to 10pm; Sun: 3pm to 8pm
Venue : At the museum cafe of the War Memorial of Korea (Samgakji Station Line 6, Exit 1, 11 or 12.)
GKBF with Everland
Date : June 13th (Sat) and 14th (Sun)
Time : 10am to 8pm (tentative)
Venue : At the Rose Garden