Magpie Brewing Class

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Magpie Brewing offers homebrew class for 50,000won/class. All classes take place on Sundays, usually running from Fall to Spring (the Summer months are too hot for easy beer making). You have three choices on how extensive and expensive you want your experience to be.

You can do a single class for 50,000won. You’ll learn the techniques of brewing in a lecture-style lesson given by Magpie co-founder Jason Lindley. There will be a beer tasting followed by a short brewing demonstration.

You can do four classes for 200,000won. The first class is the same. The next two classes have you brewing a 20L batch with a small group. Each class will brew a different beer, and all the beer you brew will be shared amongst the group. When I finished, I ended up with 12L of beer: half of it an IPA and half a Yuja Porter. The last class is for learning how to bottle the beers. Jason shows you what to do and while you and your group bottle the beers yourselves. There is also another beer tasting.

Starting in February, Magpie plans on offering a twelve class course which involves more in-depth learning, much more brewing, and a trip to The Table where Magpie’s own beers are made. Jason has also started doing special one-off holidays gift sessions. For Xmas customers could help brew a sweet potato ale that’s then packaged in a nice glass bottle. For this Valentine’s, students could help brew a vanilla chocolate stout.

For more detailed information, skip to the bottom of this article.

Class Journal: My Four-Lesson Experience

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I signed up for the class. Details were surprisingly scant. However, any apprehensions I had about the class was quickly lifted as soon as Jason started teaching. The following is a detailed (and sometimes not-so-detailed) journal of my experience.

Day 1 – Intro Class

Jason Lindley, co-founder of Magpie, was our instructor. His assistant, Ji, helped out and translated. Jason started the class by introducing himself and providing a short, contextual history of the growth of craft beer in Korea.

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Of course, the first lesson of the day goes down much better with a little Magpie Pale Ale!

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jason credits much of the growth of craft brewing in Korea to the work of homebrewers. He specifically highlighted the contributions of Homebrew Korea, Rob Titley, Gord Seller, Ka-Brew, and our old friend Bill Miller.

Once we got context out of the way, Jason took a scientific angle in teaching about the brewing process. However, it wasn’t as intimidating as it sounds. Jason also provided a printed homebrewing guide with the lecture that we could take home. Among the things we learned, the real highlight, for me, was a terrific explanation of the effect that adding hops at different times has on your beer. It might sound technical to the uninitiated but hops provide the bitterness, flavor, and aroma that’s sought out in pale ales and IPAs—and timing has a lot to do with it.

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About two hours into the class we started our beer tasting. Jason had spent a lot of time teaching us about the different ingredients of beer, so it was nice to put all that theory into practice. We tasted the Magpie Sorachi Ace, whose hops give it a rare lemon and dill flavor. Next came the Ballast Point Calico Amber Ale, North Coast’s Acme IPA, Caldera Brewing’s IPA, Brewdog’s Punk IPA, Magpie’s Belgian Strong Golden Ale, and finally Magpie’s Belgian IPA. We discussed the different flavors that hops give to beer, and about how time and improper importation can destroy these flavors.

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With about 30min left to class, Jason did a mock demonstration of brewing a beer. Normally the process takes 2-3 hours, but Jason’s demo was—as he described—like a cooking demo on a talk show. Still, the wort was real and the room filled with a smell somewhat akin to toast or baking bread.

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Everyone left the first class very happy, full of knowledge, and excited for the first real brew day!

Day 2 – IPA

Normally Jason does an IPA or pale ale on this day. Two of our groups made an IPA, but the third group wanted to do an Amber Ale. Jason was very obliging, even though it made his job a bit harder.

What really excited me about the IPA was that we got to choose our own hops from Jason’s collection. Even reading the bags, with their descriptions of flavors and aromas, was mouth-watering. Opening the bags and smelling those dank, marijuana-like, sweet, fruity buds was heavenly.

The recipe for our IPA went as follows:

IPA (5.8-6.5%abv)

3.2kg DME (Dried malt extract)

24L of 70C water to steep specialty malt for 15min

Specialty Malt: Carahell 200g (a lightly toasted malt with bready, toast flavor; adds light/golden color; adds freshness, body, richness)

Hops: Four hops additions

H1: 60min/Bittering hops/alpha 8%/14g /Columbus

H2: 15min/Flavor hops/28g/Summit (Onion/garlic flavors )

H3: Flame out/Aroma hops/28g/Amarillo (Floral, Citrus, Tropical aromas)

H4: Flame out/Aroma hops/28g/Topaz (Fruity/Citrus aromas)

Jason already had our 24L of water heated to around 70 C°. We measured out our specialty malt and put it in the brew bag ourselves. Then we measured the DME. When water was boiled we added the DME while stirring vigorously. We washed a fermenter while waiting for water to again boil. Then we added our bittering hops. We set a timer for 45min so we’d know when to add our flavoring hops (H2).

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A few minutes after we added the DMT, it boiled over. Jason informed us that we should always watch it closely for the first 5min. If it continues boiling over, you have to switch heat back and forth; but you must have a strong boil! A chemical called DMS gives beer a taste like cream corn, and it takes about 45-60min for DMS to boil away. Also, the hops interact better with the rolling of the boil to extract alpha acids.

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While we waited, Jason taught us how to properly wash and sanitize our equipment. Jason and Ji did the cooling of the wort by themselves. After the cooled wort was transferred into the sanitized fermenter, we cleaned our used equipment. Then, we used a hydrometer to measure the Original Gravity (OG—a measure of how much sugar, proteins, and other compounds are in our wort). We were aiming for 1.060-1.065 and we got 1.060 OG. I also learned that, when you have finished measuring the sample wort, you can taste it! Ours was quite sweet (as there’s been no yeast added to start eating the sugars) and had a nice bitter finish from all those hops.

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After the chilled wort was transferred and the cleaning was done, I sanitized my hands, pitched the yeast, sealed the fermenter, and put on the label: IPA Group #1 OG 1.060 at 18C.

We were all done! I stuck around until Magpie opened for general customers so I could try their limited edition A Bird in the Hand Rye Pale Ale. It was very fine: spicy, clean, dry, and satisfying. It was one of the best beers I’ve had that was made in Korea.

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Beer #1: IPA — The Verdict!

We didn’t bottle this beer for two weeks and I let it condition for another 5 days before trying it. It was truly incredible! Definitely a beer I would buy in a store if the price was right. I couldn’t taste onion or garlic specifically, but the beer had a true savory flavor layered upon the standard bready, malty flavor. The hops were more subtle than I expected, but that savory taste was just outstanding. I ended up calling it “Savor the Flavor IPA”.

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One of the best tasting pale ales I had all season!

 

Day 3 – Yuja Porter

Day 3 saw us split into only two groups, as there were only six of us (with a seventh showing up about an hour late). Jason presented us with a big bag of Yuja. Yuja is a Korean citrus fruit that’s very sour and is traditionally used for making tea. Because of the strong presence of yuja, we were going to use less specialty malt than usual. Our recipe for the today was as follows:

3.2Kg DME

300g Roasted Malt (Carafa 2)

300ml Honey

14g Stella hops (7% alpha acid)

100g Yuja

2 packs of S05 yeast

 

After starting our brews, we had a more in-depth lecture on ingredients than on the first day. We talked a lot about specialty ingredients, secondary fermentation (when many special ingredients are added), and yeast.

Again, the talk was often very scientific but explained expertly by Jason. He really has a gift for explaining technical concepts in a way that’s easy to understand.

We also had a good chat about the brewing process and, especially, of fermentation. We learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. I took several pages of notes.

Upon tasting the wort this time, I got a real hint of Terry’s orange chocolate. It was quite sweet and surprisingly good.

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My group carefully measures the Original Gravity using a hydrometer. Much simpler than it sounds!
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That’s me, tasting the wort. It had a very nice, sweet, chocolate orange flavor.
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After pitching the yeast and sealing the container, we’re all finished!

 

Beer #2: Yuja Porter — The Verdict!

I gave away three of my bottles right away. Of the three I kept the first one I tried while it was still too young. We fermented them for 1 week, but the Final Gravity was a little too high. Jason said that, ideally, we would have let it ferment a little longer. He also said that we could feel free to let it condition up to six months before refrigerating it.

The first one I refrigerated after only 5 days. I was impatient! It tasted nice, but I could tell that it was too young. It was a little too sweet and fizzy and bright. The second one I refrigerated in early January. It was better, but still a little too tangy and bright with too little of the dark, malty flavor I craved. I didn’t really get that orange-chocolate taste until my last few sips. The final bottle I’m going to keep as long as I can. Hopefully I’ll last until at least Lunar New Year and give the flavors a real chance to mature.

 

Day 4 – Bottling

The last day! We were all really excited about seeing how our beers had turned out and learning how to bottle them! We also did a really fantastic beer tasting at the end of this class.

Jason warned us that bottling can be easy but very messy! The mess was mostly just harmless sanitizer solution, but it did get all over the floor.

First we sanitized about a hundred 1L bottles and some tubs to transfer our beer into. Jason also taught us how to use our OG and FG gravity measurements to calculate our abv (alcohol by volume).

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Once we were all ready, Jason showed us how to syphon our beer from the fermenters into a new, clean tub. The yeast settles on the bottom of the fermenter so, if we syphon from the top, we can get as much beer with as little yeast as possible transferred into our new tub. From there we can bottle.

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Jason also taught us about adding bottling sugar to help generate CO2 for the bottled beer. We also learned what to look for in our fermented beer to tell if it has developed any bad flavors or chemicals.

After a fun and not-too-messy time bottling, we each had a suitcase full of beer! As mentioned before, I got six 1L bottles of each kind. My yuja porter group had four members instead of three, so we all had to rock-scissor-paper to see who got the extra bottles.

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With plenty of time left for the class, Jason treated us to an outstanding beer tasting. He chose nine beers, many of them quite expensive. We did several of Magpie’s beers, some Belgians, and a few American imports.

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We started with the Magpie Rye Pale Ale which I already mentioned was one of my favorite beers. Jason explained how he used double the usual amount of rye and some special hops grown in small batches in Michigan. Then came the Magpie Belgium IPA again. This time we had a better appreciation for the ingredients that went into it, especially the Belgian Golden Ale yeast that gave it a cooling, minty flavor.

The next beer was Magpie’s own gose beer called The Ghost, which is a German-style sour beer. This kind of beer promotes a particular bacterial growth and then uses salt to help open the tongue up to sweetness in order to balance out the flavors. I must admit that, after the first three sips, I didn’t think I could finish it. It was so strangely unique in its sourness. But I forced myself to try more (I hate wasting beer!) and on the fourth sip the sourness seemed to mellow—as if my brain turned a switch and adjusted to it. All of a sudden, on one sip only, I got a pleasant splash of green apple. By the time I was finished my sample, I quite enjoyed it.

We then tried a pair of Belgian beers from The Bottle Shop. First up was Westmalle Trappist Dubbel. Dubbels are essentially “doubles” and are traditionally strong brown ales. Jason explained that Belgians often use candied sugar in their beers, imparting a distinct “ribbon candy” flavor. Next was the Westmalle Tripel (or triple). These are traditionally very strong golden ales. This one was super dry, but with a minty coolness akin to the Magpie Belgium IPA.

Already feeling pretty unwound, we got to try the standard Magpie Porter next. This beer has been on Magpie’s menu since the beginning and actually has a colorful and secret past which extends beyond that. The porter has an aroma of molasses cookies and tastes slightly smoky. Right now it’s 4.6% abv due to regulations that were in place when it was first brewed, but Jason plans to tweak it to 5.5-6% soon. The Magpie porter is a great example of Jason’s fine, authentic taste in beers: he seems to dislike anything too novel or experimental for the sake of flash and attention.

We then tried Caldera’s Pilot Rock Porter and Coronado’s Cigar City Jurata Baltic Porter in order to compare the different tastes that can come in a porter, since we just bottled a specialty porter ourselves. The last, and perhaps best, was Magpie’s new Baltic Porter. A Baltic porter is a higher gravity porter that’s usually fermented in colder temperatures. This one was quite nice, with big chocolaty and malty flavors. Very warming for the cold winter season.

Needless to say, we all left Magpie that last day with mirth in our hearts and gratitude pouring from our lips. The experience was really wonderful. I learned a lot about brewing and beer in general. I got lots of very good quality beer to take home and I got a chance to meet some very fine people. If there’s a better way to legally spend 200,000won, I’m not sure what it is.

Thinking of doing the class? Here’s some important information to help you out.

What do we learn?

We learned so much from Jason that it’s not feasible to list it all. Just to give an idea: Everybody gets a printed manual, with tons of information, to take home. Jason also gives lectures, answers questions, gives demos, and allows us to have hands-on experiences in a small class setting.

What freebies do we get?

Classes #1 and #4 each have a free beer tasting. The amount of beer tasted is significant, as is the guidance of having someone describe the beers. Classes #2 and #3 involve making beer, which you will get to take home to drink! I got 12L but some people got a little more. In addition, we got to take home a free poster of A Bird in the Hand. This might not be usual, but several of us had mentioned how we loved both the beer and the poster and Jason managed to get some extra copies. Lastly, Jason and Ji signed us all up in a web-group in case we had any questions or brewing experiences to share.

How much hands-on experience do we get?

On classes #2 and #3 you actually participate in almost every aspect of brewing while on class #4 you get to bottle your fermented beers. You will measure the ingredients on a scale, fill the grain bag, steep the bag, measure the time, add the hops and malt, clean and sanitized the equipment, pitch the yeast, and bottle the finished beers. The only things we did not do were work the stove and use the wort chiller. Getting to do the brew session twice, with very different kinds of beers, really helped reinforce what we learned.

Is it good for groups? How many students in a class?

The classes are very good for small groups of people. The class can’t really handle more than 10-12 people, with 9 probably being the most comfortable. The class is split into groups of 3-4 people, but the room is small and there’s lots of interaction amongst the groups and with the instructor.

English/Korean language problems?

Jason teaches the entire class in English. He’s from Chicago, so English speakers be at ease! For Korean students whose English is a little low, Ji is there to translate the harder stuff into Korean. However, I imagine a functional level of English is recommended.

Was it fun?

The class was tons of fun. Trust me.

What’s the 411?

The class takes place at Magpie’s Kyungridan location at 11am on Sundays only. You can sign up or ask for more details by emailing Jason at Classes@magpiebrewing.com.

I’d recommend bringing a pen and perhaps a notebook or laptop with which to take notes.

On bottling day (class #4) you should bring a small piece of luggage or a big backpack and a spare bag to carry all of your glorious beer. Also, on that day, wear a pair of shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty/wet. If your hands dry out easily, bring some moisturizer because you will be washing equipment and using sanitizer quite often!

Cameras are welcome!

 

 

Korea Craft Brewery Tour

Korea Craft Brewery opened in July 2014 and started offering tours in October 2014. Troy Zitzelsberger, of Reilly’s Taphouse and founder of the Seoul Brew Club, arranged the tour with some of us fellow SBC members. About a dozen of us met at the Hamilton Hotel on a crisp November afternoon, ready for the ninety minute road trip to Eumseong county.

I’m not sure what’s allowed in Korea, but I picked up a Lost Coast Downtown Brown for the road trip to Eumseong-gun. I sat in the back with my friends George and Jen, sipping my beer and shooting the breeze. George talked extensively about his fascination with a clear, malt beverage called Zima that had been discontinued in the USA since the 90’s, but which he found on his travels to Japan.

One for the road. I should have made it three. It's a pretty long road.
One for the road. I should have made it three. It’s a pretty long road.

The brewery is surrounded by farmland, which makes it look all the more impressive in its size and newness. The doors are quite tall, and the antechamber is minimalist and clean. For some reason, there is a single chair which gives the room the feel of a smoking parlor or den.

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The chair! I can’t deny it’s classy appeal. And it was comfortable.
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I almost feel like it’s a social experiment: Eleven SBC members waiting to start the tour… one luxurious chair.

Mark Hamon greeted us after a few minutes. Mark, the head brewer, started the initial Hitachino brewery in Japan. Korea Craft Brewery isn’t owned by Hitachino, but KCB’s ownership group is close with them. Consequently, KCB launched in July already armed with a major contract to brew Hitachino in Korea for the Korean and Chinese markets.

Before stepping inside the brewing facilities, Mark informed us that no photos are allowed inside the brewery and that we’d have to put our phones into a locker. In fact, all brewing activity is suspended for the tours. This was a pretty big disappointment for me, as a blogger, because I was afraid of being left only with pictures of a smoking chair and a big door. To be fair, there’s always people wanting to get a hold of a little too much information, and the craft beer scene here in East Asia is just about to explode.

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KCB remained quite secretive in several regards: how they treat the soft, alkaline water of Korea for their beers; the hops they use; any recipe details; and their plans for contract brewing. It was actually quite fun to see Troy (from Reilly’s), Bryan Kunkel (from Hand & Malt), and some of the other guys trying to goad Mark into opening up a little more.

Before entering the brewing facilities, everyone slips plastic booties over their shoes and goes through a routine foot bath. Mark showed us around all the equipment, giving details about volume and technique. They can currently handle about 24,000 liters of beer a month and fill 80 bottles/min at max speed. They’re thinking about canning in the future, but don’t currently have the equipment. Mark also said that there’s tons of room for future expansion, as the brewery is surrounded by farmland.

Mark also has different uses in mind for some of that farmland. He is very interested in all natural, local, and organic ingredients whenever possible. Mark buys grains from a local supplier and said that he would love to get his hands on some quality wild yeast or traditional/historic hops or malts used in Korea’s past.

Mark impressed me with his interest in ingredients. He really wants to find authentic Korean ingredients and has been inquiring into whether there’ve been any traditional Korean hops or malts that can be rediscovered. Additionally, KCB will start growing their own hops on a local farm. He’s also interested in cultivating wild yeasts, if possible. Currently, four types of yeast can be grown on site.

Mark did provide some hints of information about the brewery’s future plans. He gave us a young sample of a special beer that would be their first contract brew. Since the tour, Craftbros Taphouse and Bottleshop have announced a Yuzu Belgian White beer named Snow White Ale made at Korea Craft Brewery by Mark Hamon. More will surely follow.

Snow White Ale. Pic taken from Craftbros Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/craftbros.co.kr?fref=ts&ref=br_tf)
Snow White Ale. Pic taken from Craftbros Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/craftbros.co.kr?fref=ts&ref=br_tf)

Mark said his ultimate goal is to get a nice stable of contract brews going and then expand to allow himself to do his own brand with an IPA, Belgian white, and Stout. KCB also has intentions of launching some special Korean style(s) of beer.

After the tour, we all piled into the tasting room and ordered several rounds of beer. The brewery was also kind enough to ply us with tons of free food and drink on top of it all. All-in-all it was a blast!

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The Espresso Stout was my favorite beer of the day.

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One last tall one for the road back.

 

More information about the brewery and tours can be found at the website. Most of the information is in Korean, but there are English directions for arranging a tour.

Hong Kong: Amazing Bottles and Prices at City Super Grocery Store

Visiting Hong Kong from Seoul, the main thing I wanted to check out wasn’t The Peak or the Star Ferry but the craft beer!

I certainly haven’t explored very much of Hong Kong in my first two days, but I did stumble upon a franchise grocery store at IFC mall, called City Super, with an amazing selection of foodstuffs that blows anything Seoul has out of the water. My lactose/soy sensitive girlfriend found coconut milk ice cream two days in a row without looking for it. We also found this amazing Korean food section.

Yum! Gochu jung, tuna, gim, and Spam! The best Korea has to offer!
Yum! Gochu jung, tuna, gim, and Spam! The best Korea has to offer!

However, the real prize was the beer section. In the refrigerated aisle, there was a decent selection. Yet, it didn’t totally blow me away.

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This wasn’t everything it had, but it was most of it. Some belgians, standard imports. Surprised by the inclusion of Molson Canadian!

The only really exciting thing was a row of local craft beer.

There was only the IPA and Pale Ale left, but a few other styles had sold out: probably a promising sign!
There was only the IPA and Pale Ale left, but a few other styles had sold out: probably a promising sign!

What really blew me away was finding a shit ton of other awesome beer in an unrefrigerated aisle!

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The Holy Grail! Sierra Nevada for 17 Hong Kong Dollars… that’s about 2,500won!! WTF!?
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Granville Island! That’s the beer I drank all the time in Vancouver! Nice! And Alexander Keiths. Certainly not craft beer, but it’s the very first beer that was recommended to me, based on flavor, when a friend returned from a trip to Nova Scotia. That was back when I was 17. Good times.
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Brew Dog Libertine Black Ale for about 4,300won? Hells yeah!
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Any beer drinker worth their weight in Seoul will recognize these trailblazers brought to us by Brewmasters Korea. Although many of these beers have come down in price, nothing beats this price: 20 HKD or about 2,900won!
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Anchor beer! In Asia!

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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.

Guinness in Vietnam?

By Jonathan Gharbi at BeerVN

A frequent question about beer in Vietnam is if you can get hold of a Guinness or any other stout or porter. But why drink a expensive imported beer when you have many tastier local beers with more malt and taste?

Craft Beer Vietnam
Legen Beer, My Dinh

 

 There are many microbreweries that make black beer with imported malt and hops. Black beer served at Legend Beer (German style brewery) in My Dinh, Hanoi.

Local commercial beers in Vietnam                                                                                  There are a good number of locally produced lagers in Vietnam that you can get on both can and bottle. The only commercial black beer in Vietnam is Dai Viet super on can which is a black lager, easy to find at most supermarkets like Fivi Mart or Big C. You can also find Guinness on 33 cl can at some of these places. But the best option is to visit one of the local microbreweries in Vietnam for a tasty black beer.

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Vietnam Commercial Brews

 

The beers above are the most common “local” commercial beers produced in Vietnam.

Top five best black microbrew beers in Vietnam                                                    There are about 45 microbreweries in Vietnam and most of them produce a blond and a black beer. All black beers in Vietnam are made of black malt, chrystal malt and pilsner malt imported from Czech Republic, Austria or Germany. The amount of malt is higher than in a Guinness and has stronger notes of coffee and chocolate.  Here is a list of microbreweries that make really good beers. You can only get the beer direct from the tap, none of them have cans or bottles. There are many more black beers to try but these are the strongest and most full bodied.

1. Hoa vien Brauhaus at 16 Pho Quang, Ho Chi Minh City   (Czech style beer)     There are five Hoa Vien Brauhaus in Vietnam, two in Hanoi and one in Mui Ne.

Craft Beer Vietnam Hoa Vien
Black beer at Hoa Vien

         

2. Goldmalt at 65 Ngo Thi Nam Hanoi             ( Czech style beer)                                 There are 11 Goldmalts in Vietnam, 10 in Hanoi and one in Ho Chi Minh City.

Craft Beer in Vietnam Goldmalt
Black Lager at Goldmalt

3. Bidega at 848 Tran Hung Dao, Ninh Binh             (German style beer)                This is the first microbrewery in Ninh Binh and opened 2014.

Craft Beer Vietnam Ninh Binh
Beer in Ninh Binh

4. Mai Vien Brauhaus, 145 Trung Hoa, Hanoi                                                               This brewery makes two full bodied beers and can sometimes have three  beers on tap.

Craft Beer Vietnam Mai Vien Hanoi
Mai Vien Hanoi

5. Bia Tuoi Tiep at house A2, Nguyen Co Thach, My Dinh district Hanoi        This microbrewery is situated about 10 km from the old qaurter in Hanoi.

Craft Beer Vietnam Hanoi
Czech beer Hanoi

For a more information about location take a look at each brewery on Beervn.com’s youtube channel. Here is a short clip from Bia Tuoi Tiep in My Dinh, Hanoi.

Great Korean Beer Festival at COEX Food Week’s Beer Zone (Nov 2014)

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For a second year in a row, I went to the beer zone at COEX Food Week. The beer zone was another Korean beer fest created and hosted by the event planning group Media Param. It ran from Wednesday, November 12th through Saturday, November 15th. My friend Michael Hobbs and I got tickets for the last day of the event thanks to Dami Kang, and we were greeted by Kyoung-hee Lim who gave us our passes and filled us in on the details.

Like last year’s event, the beer zone was a very small part of the greater Food Week expo, just tucked away in the back area of one of the halls. This year it was in Hall D on the 3rd floor. Like last year, it had only six stalls. And also like last year, it was popular and drew a festive crowd! However, this year’s selections were different with the exception of Craftworks and Platinum.

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As for the newcomers, the Hand and Malt was next to the stall for the event planners. They had the same beers on tap as at the October event: Extra Special Ale, German Hefeweizen, Mocha Stout, and Belgian White. Along with the samples, they were offering 12oz. cups for 3,000won. Next to them was Jejusien with two beers called Tamra Heavy and Tamra Light. Additionally, Jespi offered a pilsner and a strong ale. Across the way, Smooth International handed out samples from different Pacific Northwest beers they import like Red Hook, Ninkasi, and Widmer Brothers. Next to them was Platinum Brewery, who offered five beers on tap and sold 10oz cups for 2,000 won. Lastly was Craftworks who also had five of their beers on offer.

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All in all, this was a nice event and it gave me a few thoughts.

The first thought is inspired by the inclusion of Jejusien and Jespi. As their names suggest, they are both based in Jeju. It was great for me to find them because I had never heard of them before. The two companies seem to come from different traditions with Jejusien seeming to be more conservative in style, like the established brands, while Jespi reflected a more modern craft brewing style.

Michael and I both tried the Strong Ale from Jespi and the Tamra Heavy from Jejusien. Both were similar to an IPA but different from each other. Jespi’s Strong Ale was smoother and barely had any bite to it, but definitely had a citrus taste and smell. The citrus wasn’t overwhelming and came from both the hops used in the brewing and some adding citrus peel. The Tamra Heavy also had a taste of citrus but was stronger than the Jespi with a bitter bite with a fuller mouth feel.

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These two new Jeju brewers led me to think that maybe Korea is returning to a past attitude that hasn’t been around for quite a while. I had heard several times that, in the past, each region in Korea used to have its own regional soju brewer. The two Jeju brewers at the event reminded me that Korean craft beer is not just for Seoul, but also rooted in Busan and now Jeju. That doesn’t even say anything about the small craft brewers who just brew for one or two bars in their area. So I wonder, is Korea returning to the old tradition of regional brewing: but in beer, not soju?

Another realization I had was that three of the five brewers at the event had been around for less than a year. They hadn’t even been in existence when the last COEX event happened. This just shows the wonderful explosion happening in craft brewing in Korea.

I also thought about how the event was organized, and for whom. This year’s event was held after October’s very successful Great Korean Beer Festival at the War Museum. The focus seemed to be on the Korean population this time, unlike the October event which mainly attracted expats. Was this accidental? Who knows, but this was a good thing because craft brewing in Korea can’t be more than a niche without the support of Koreans.

The event was quietly mentioned, which may have been because of how much effort the organizers had put into the October event. The October event was huge and may also have been where most of the brewers wanted to focus their energy. Consequently, the COEX event took up a much smaller area and had a lot fewer stalls. Perhaps because of this, there was no additional charge for the beer samples: the 10,000won price that got you into the Food Expo also covered admission to the beer zone! This affordability was excellent for those who were not at the expo for beer. Regular Korean beer drinkers could experience new, exciting beers they would otherwise never see.

Another clue suggesting a Korean-centered focus was that most of the people at the booths had a much better command of Korean than English. My not-so-good grasp of Korean combined with my nervousness and the alcohol led to some interesting confusion for those I was trying to question. We all handled it as well as we could with apologies from me and smiles all around.

Was the event successful? It felt like it was for me. I went in the afternoon and saw a huge crowd. The event overflowed a bit, but not too badly compared to last year. The aisle was crowded and there were good lines for the beer. It supported more of the Korea community and reached people who wouldn’t show up to a 30,000won beer festival. And it was fun. All in all, Mike and I had a great time and enjoyed it.

Cebu City: Lechon, Sunshine & Craft Beer!

Travelers to The Philippines may know Cebu City as a vacation destination for diving, fun in the sun, lechon and Sinulog Festival. What I now know Cebu City for is Craft Beer, thanks to Turning Wheels Craft Brewery and Irie Gastropub. A special shoutout to GM Jan Rodriguez for the hospitality and his shared passion for craft beer.

Turning Wheels Craft Brewing Cebu City
Here I am enjoying some Turning Wheels Craft Beers at Irie Gastropub in Cebu City Philippines

I spent 24 hours in Cebu this November and found my way to Irie Gastropub in the Cebu IT Park (Skyrise 4). Aside from a fantastic menu and great service, Irie Gastropub is home to the craft beers from Turning Wheels Craft Brewing of Cebu City.

Turning Wheels Craft Brewing Cebu City Philippines
Turning Wheels Craft Beer sign at Irie Gastropub in Cebu’s IT Park

Turning Wheels has been brewing since earlier in 2014 with Brewmaster, Michael Nikkel at the helm. On my night at Irie, four of his beers were on tap including Derailed Pale Ale, Single Track IPA, Turning Point Double IPA and Single Speed Stout.

Irie Gastropub Tasting Rack
Four of Turning Wheels Craft Beers at Irie Gastropub in Cebu

Beers are served on tap in pint glasses or on a sample rack. The Double IPA was my favorite and represented the NW IPA style perfectly along with the Single Track IPA. This is some of the finest IPA and Double IPA I’ve had in Asia that is truly representative of its North American Counterparts. The Single Speed Stout was also fantastic and would stand up against anything I have had elsewhere.

If you want a good food pairing item while at Irie Gastropub, try the Smorgasms paired with the Stout. I seem to remember a young lady in a blue dress who was drooling over these.

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Have yourself a Smorgasm at Irie Gastropub, I did. With a stout of course…

The Great Korean Beer Festival: Media Paran is Perfecting the Beer Festival

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Me and Rowan (right) at the Hand & Malt booth. I love their Extra Special Ale (5.7% abv)!

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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.

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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.

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Me with some happy fellows. Everyone I talked to had an absolute blast at the GKBF!

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.

Taking the Plunge: Learning To Homebrew With Seoul Homebrew Shop

Have you ever had a moment where, after years of going back and forth, hemming and hawing, you finally take the plunge and do something you’ve always wanted to do?

After years of curiosity, I took the plunge on a nice autumn afternoon last Sunday. With some initiative from my friend Rob Shelley, I was finally going to learn about brewing beer! I had spent years talking about it, but brewing just seemed too complicated. Now I was going to find out if my fears were overblown.

Rob and I had been talking about brewing for a while. As a beer blogger, he felt that he needed some hands-on brewing experience to round out his knowledge of beer. Rob had contacted Seoul Homebrew about their classes, but the normal teacher was out of the country. Luckily for us, co-founder Jonathan Wilson was about to brew a batch for himself, and offered to let Rob come along for a free lesson. Rob asked if I could tag along and boom: there I was about to go back to school!

Seoul Homebrew is located in Itaewon on a small alley behind Geckos. It’s in the building across from The Wolfhound, in a basement below The Four Seasons. We avoided the temptation of The Four Seasons and their delicious selection of imports and homebrewed beer, and descended into the belly of the Seoul homebrew scene.

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The Seoul Homebrew shop looks like a mash-up of warehouse and kitchen. One part of the room is used as storage for ingredients and materials. The other part is a kitchen-like brewing area. The center of the small room is bisected by a bar made from a polished dark wood.

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Our teacher, Seoul Homebrew co-founder Jonathan Wilson.

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Awaiting us on top of the bar was our first challenge of the day, a test!

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Right out of the gate, I stumbled. The first question asked what the four ingredients of beer were. I answered with the ones I could easily taste: malt (or grains), water, and hops. I paused and racked by brain but couldn’t pull the last one out. I threw a Hail Mary pass and went for “time”. After some gentle teasing from Jonathan and Rob, I was reminded of the most necessary ingredient to be able to make alcohol—yeast!

Jonathan proved himself a gentle teacher by handling my forgetfulness with an easy smile and straight answer. From there we covered more of the basics: what the ingredients do, how sugar is fermented into alcohol, and the role of temperature.

After the preliminaries, Jonathan got us to scoop and weigh several different malts while explaining their flavor profiles. We had fun tasting and smelling all of the types of malt that we were using that day: Pale Ale, Dark Chocolate, Carapils, Caramel 60, and Midnight Wheat. We also added some unmalted Roasted Barley. Rob and I got surprisingly addicted to the popcorn-like taste of malted and roasted grains.

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Tom scoops some Pale Ale malt.
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Rob pours the weighed malt into the grinder.

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Through each step, from measuring and grinding the grains, to checking the temperature, brewing the malt and extract, adding the hops, chilling the wort, and adding the yeast, Jonathan guided us deftly while letting us do as much of the work as possible. He took care of anything that was difficult or dangerous, but definitely treated us to a hands-on experience. This was great because it’s exactly how I learn best; I need to do the work to actually understand it.

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Teamwork as Tom and Rob pour the ground grain into the grain bag to steep in the hot water.
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Jonathan and Tom put hops into some pantyhose to steep into the wort. Hops can be added at different times and in different amounts depending on how much flavour or bitterness you want.

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Normally for these classes, students brew a Pale Ale. However, as this was Jonathan’s personal brew, he walked us through making an Imperial Stout with the partial extract method.

The partial extract method (or partial mash) was perfect for us because it combined the two main ways of brewing: the more technical all-grain mash and the pre-packaged extract brewing. The extract brewing is easier because someone has already done the hard work of extracting fermentable sugars and packaged it in powder form. We simply throw it into the hot water! This extract will give us most of the fermentable sugars we need to make alcohol, while the grains will give us the color, flavor, and mouthfeel we want.

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Jonathan with the pre-packaged extract. This will give the wort lots of extra fermentable sugars that the yeast will eat a turn into alcohol. Jonathan’s Imperial Stout is aiming for about 7.5% abv. Yum!

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During the time we spent waiting around while the brewing happened, which is most of the brewing experience, we did what any professional brew master would do: we talked and drank. Jonathan explained more about what we were doing and why. He was also as generous with his homebrew as his was with his knowledge. We tried several different beers, some that were stouts and others that were pale ales. The pale ales were interesting because he had brewed several beers with the same recipe, changing only the type of hops. This allowed us to contrast the different flavors and aromas that different types of hops create.

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Brewing is thirsty work. Luckily, Jonathan is as generous with his beer as he is with his knowledge.

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Adding to our fun and education were several drop-ins throughout the day. Seoul Homebrew is a very inviting place for beer enthusiasts. Early in the afternoon, we had two gentlemen who were confused about what the place was and had already had too much beer to hear Jonathan’s invitation to sit down with us for a drink. Then an experienced home brewer named Brett stopped in to buy supplies, but stuck around with us for a few glasses of homebrew. Brett added a lot to our conversations about home brewing. Later, Kim Man Jeh from The Four Seasons come down. Man Jeh is a certified Brew Master, having trained in Germany, and often stops by Seoul Homebrew for a beer and a chat. We were blessed to have him there to answer questions about his experiences and get his opinions on the craft brewing scene in Korea. He also shared some exciting news: he’ll be the head brewer for a new brewery opening up in Busan!

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This is Kim Man Jeh’s amazing Coconut Stout that was previously available at The Four Seasons. It was one of my favorite beers!

All in all, the whole experience was great. Jonathan is a great teacher and wonderful host. From my time working in a brew pub as waiter, I’ve gathered some sort of idea of the steps, ingredients, and materials needed for brewing. In a sense I knew all the words, but I hadn’t known the tune. From Jonathan, I not only learned more about the process—I got to see, feel, smell, and taste the process, too!

As the class and the brewing progressed, I started understanding more and more. I learned about base malts and specialty malts. I learned about how adding hops at different times changed the taste. While I can’t say I am an expert yet, I am more knowledgeable about the process. My trepidation has been replaced by an eagerness to start brewing on my own.

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20141019_183018 Jonathan and Tom with the wort chiller, which helps cool down the wort as fast as possible.

 

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20141019_185633 Adding the packaged yeast after the wort is chilled to the exact temperature Jonathan planned. Temperature can be experimented with for different flavors, but only within a certain range.

 

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Adding the newborn brew into a freshly sanitized fermenting tub, made and sold at Seoul Homebrew. Jonathan wants a nice, frothy pour to give the yeast a little oxygen to help them do their heavenly work. This will be the last free oxygen they get, as Jonathan will cap the tub, shortly.

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Is it worth taking the class? Yes, it’s definitely worth it. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to be a class only for those who are going to start brewing beer. This can be a great opportunity for someone who likes craft beers and wants to know something about them and the process. By taking this class, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the beers that you love. For myself and Rob, it kindled the fire in us to start brewing on our own. Jonathan removed any worries I had about making mistakes and helped me welcome the opportunity to find out what can happen if I take plunge for real.

If you’re interested in attending the class, you can reach Jonathan at www.seoulhomebrew.com. There you can sign up for classes or order equipment and ingredients. Classes start at 55,000won per person and include 5L of the beer you helped craft! It usually runs every second and fourth Saturday. The class is great for the casual beer lover, budding brewers, or even as fun ice-breakers and team-building exercises for coworkers.

IPA Bottle Tasting #1: Lost Coast, Ninkasi, Ballast Point, Brew Dog, Kona, and Queen’s Ale

In many respects, American-style IPAs have become the poster child for the recent craft beer boom. New varieties of hops from the Pacific Northwest—such as Simcoe, Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus—have introduced new flavors and punchy bitterness to countless new beer drinkers. In Korea, too, the IPA is gaining in popularity; not only with foreigners but also with Koreans. In fact, several new establishments testify that many of their newest customers are groups of young Korean women.

Due to the IPA’s importance in the emerging beer culture of Seoul, I decided to conduct my first taste test with some IPAs that can be purchased to take home. From The Bottle Shop in Kyungridan, I selected Lost Coast’s Indica IPA, Ninkasi’s Total Domination IPA, and Brew Dog’s Punk IPA. From nearby Woori Mart I selected Kona’s Castaway IPA. Finally, from my local E-Mart I selected Ballast Point’s Big Eye IPA. Also from E-Mart, I chose to throw in a ringer. As this was a blind taste test, I wanted to see how Jinro-Hite’s Queen’s Ale Extra Bitter would hold up against the western IPAs.

Joining me in the tasting were three friends: two Americans (Mike and Tom) and one Brit (Alex). My friends were a little intimidated by the task of describing beer. This is the case with most beer drinkers, who know what they like but don’t really know how to articulate it. I assured them that tasting is pretty subjective and that most IPAs can be described by the same basic flavors: citrus, floral, piney, resin, grassy, and fruity. Likewise, darker ales typically share the malty characteristics of caramel, bread, biscuit, toasty, or roasty.

In fact, one can easily sound like a beer-tasting expert if you just use a combination of these basic adjectives. One thing I want to demonstrate is how widely diverse and, ultimately, predictable the beer community can be. To further demonstrate this point, I’ve listed all the flavors described by the top raters at RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. Most of the same adjectives show up in every beer, while some are just off-the-wall silly: Chinese cooking, sweaty, manure, dirt, dusty, cooked vegetables, sweet onion, and match stick.

In this tasting, we weren’t focused on connoisseur-level stuff. I wanted feedback on taste, with any other impressions (aroma, mouthfeel, etc.) being optional. We also didn’t focus on giving scores to the beers. We simply sipped them, enjoyed them, and shared our thoughts out loud. I presented each beer in a numbered cup, without revealing the contents. I fired up a playlist of Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 albums on my widescreen TV, passed around the wireless mouse, and prepared the snacks. I unwisely chose cheese, chips with salsa, and avocado. These fatty and spicy foods really overwhelmed our palates, but what we lost in tasting accuracy we made up for in satisfaction.

Beer #1: Lost Coast’s Indica IPA

Northern California

ABV: 6.5%

The Bottle Shop: 5,5000won  per 12oz

RateBeer: 98

RateBeer Top 10 Raters: 74.8%

BeerAdvocate: 85

I thought it was fitting to choose this beer to kick-off our blind tasting. Indica IPA is arguably the most widely found craft beer in restaurants and bars in Seoul.

According to the Top Raters on both rating sites, beer drinkers described this beer, variously, as: Piney, peachy, caramel, dusty, pine needles, fruits, flowery, grassy, creamy, apricot, orange, earthy grapefruit, pine sap, and spicy.

That’s certainly a mouthful.

This huge spectrum of flavors, often associated with the hops that dominate an IPA’s flavor, is repeated time and again with each IPA. It’s as if the Top Raters are as lost in the dark as we are.

My group described the Indica in a variety of ways, too. Alex said there was a smokey, wooden flavor. Tom declared that there was no citrus flavor. Mike noted a distinct floral taste. I thought it had a creaminess akin to a darker ale. Three of us noted specifically that the bitterness was very well balanced with the sweetness. Overall, it was one of the most popular beers amongst us.

Beer #2: Ninkasi’s Total Domination IPA

Eugene, Oregon

ABV: 6.7%

The Bottle Shop: 6,5000won  per 12oz

RateBeer: 94

RateBeer Top 10 Raters: 70.6%

BeerAdvocate: 83

This beer was new for me, but Tom hails from Oregon and has loved this brewery for a while. The variety of flavors from the Top Raters were even more varied than with the Indica: Sweet malty, grass, toffee, bread, caramel, fruit hops, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, pineapple, mango, piney, watermelon, pine cones, cooked vegetables, lemon, biscuit, apricot, and my personal favorite, “slightly salty with shallow simplistic malt character barely covered in a thin blanket of citric hops.” That’s nice prose!

Our impressions were much simpler. We all agreed that it had a harder hop punch than the Indica. The bitterness was a bit too much for Alex’s British palate. He noted some grapefruit while I thought it had a marijuana-like dankness and a sweetness like port. Tom and Mike really liked it. Tom thought it was a souped-up version of the Indica while Mike thought it struck the perfect balance of bitter and sweet. This was a potential favorite with three of us, while too bitter for one.

Beer #3: Ballast Point’s Big Eye IPA

San Diego, California

ABV: 7%

E-Mart: 5,800won per 12oz

RateBeer: 98

RateBeer Top 10 Raters: 72.8%

BeerAdvocate: 91

I was excited about this beer simply because it was something I could buy in my neighbourhood of Daechi-dong. All the other beer locations required an hour-long commute each way. I love Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA, but I’m saving that one for a future strong/double IPA tasting.

The Top Raters comments got a little playful with this one: Peach, pineapple, grassy, grapefruit, wooden, licorice, dry, caramel, spice, fruity, marmalade, toffee, and my favorite—a light earthy, manure aroma.

Alex said it wasn’t too bitter, which was a relief after the Ninkasi, with a pine resin flavor. Tom noted the strong piney aroma, with a strange acidic hit in the chest upon swallowing. Mike thought it was very weird compared to the previous IPAs. He also thought the alcohol taste was very notable and also complained of a strange feeling going down the throat. I personally thought it had a dank, almost peaty malt taste: Like a Scottish Ale inspired IPA.

Tom had been with me when I bought the beer, so he vaguely knew which beers were on the list. He also knew that I was going to slip in a Queen’s Ale as a ringer. Surprisingly enough, Tom guessed that this beer was probably the Queen’s Ale.  This was, overall, the most divisive beer of the lot: two liked it and two didn’t.

Beer #4: Queen’s Ale Extra Bitter

South Korea

ABV: 5.4%

E-Mart: 2,060won per 12oz

Queen’s Ale is a very interesting beer. For one, it’s not a craft beer: it’s made by the corporate brewer Jinro-Hite. Also, although the terms Extra Special Bitter (ESB) and India Pale Ale (IPA) can be interchangeable, the Queen’s Ale is far less hoppy than the western IPAs.

Reaction to this new beer, an attempt by a mass-brewer to capture the emerging market for quality beer, has been mixed within the foreign beer drinking community in Seoul. Some people still hate it. Some people, like myself, actually think it’s a very decent beer: Perhaps the best beer that can be bought at this price in my neighborhood. Although it has often vanished from store shelves, and was even rumored to be dead, Queen’s Ale still pops up at my local E-Mart from time to time. I think it’s by far the best “quality” beer amongst the new Korean corporate beers designed for that market.

I dug into a rumor that Queen’s Ale actually won a medal at the last World Beer Cup. I contacted Competition Manager Chris Swersey, who confirmed that Queen’s Ale Extra Bitter won the Silver medal in the Extra Special Bitter category. This news probably comes as a shock to its detractors and supporters, alike.

So how did it stack up amongst the western IPAs? Well, there’s not enough reviews online for RateBeer or BeerAdvocate scores. Alex said that it was lighter and sweeter than the other IPAs. He also echoed the rest of us by claiming that it had no bitterness. Tom added that it was very crisp. Mike described it as “IPA 101” or an IPA “with training wheels.” He added that it was like a regular ale with a little added artificial IPA flavor. I simply couldn’t detect any hops. After our palates had been subjected to three small glasses of real west coast IPAs, the moderately bitter Queen’s Ale just got washed out. I thought it would have stood out at least a tiny bit. Well, it’s clear that you get what you pay for. No one hated it, but it was the only real plain tasting beer of the day.

Interestingly, Tom didn’t fully back off of his prediction that the previous beer, Big Eye IPA was the “ringer”. This beer gave him pause but, perhaps out of stubbornness, he still thought Queen’s Ale was one of the “real” IPAs. Classic Tom.

Beer #5: Kona’s Castaway IPA

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

ABV: 6%

Woori Mart: 6,500won per 12oz

RateBeer: 88

RateBeer Top 10 Raters: 71.8%

BeerAdvocate: 85

Kona’s Castaway was the only true IPA on this list that wasn’t found at The Bottle Shop. It can be found a few doors down at Woori Mart as well as a few other department stores. I haven’t noticed it much in bars or restaurants, but I do recall seeing it around a bit.

This beer was described online as: Smooth caramel malt with floral hops, grapefruit pulp, citrusy, tropical fruits, grapefruit and tangerine, passion fruit, pineapple, grassy, peachy, earthy, biscuit and sweet onion, white grapefruit peel, pine tips, semi-sweet caramel, resiny, herbal tea with honey taste, woody, mango, guava, and my favorite: a match stick finish.

Alex thought it was fruity, citrusy, and had a strong alcohol taste. Tom agreed, saying fruity, citrusy, and grapy. Mike thought it was very distinct with a fruity, white-grape juice flavor. I went totally off-script and thought it had a caramel and coffee wafer taste. For any Canadians who know what I mean, it tasted like a Coffee Crisp chocolate bar. I also tasted dank resin flavors. I really liked the taste because I’m a big fan of the darker malts found in porters and stouts which give those chocolate, coffee, and caramel flavors. I liked this one more than the other three, but everyone was satisfied.

Beer #6: Brew Dog’s Punk IPA

Aberdeenshire, Scotland

ABV: 5.6%

8,070won (The Bottle Shop) per 12oz

RateBeer: 98

RateBeer Top 10 Raters: 72.6%

BeerAdvocate: 86

The last beer of the afternoon! We were all feeling pretty good by this point, and our tongues had taken quite a lot of hops. The Top Raters described this beer as: Lemon, limes, straw, malt, citrus peel, pine needles, grapefruit (peachy, salty), soft, creamy malt, orange, toffee, earthy, dirty, passion fruit, hay, grass, Chinese cooking, resiny, sweaty, jam, and citrus zest.

Alex said it was fruity and one of the lightest beers of the day. Tom said it was citrusy. Mike noted some hefeweizen-like banana flavors. I thought it was well-balanced with a distinct apricot-like fruitiness. Tom and Alex agreed with the apricot taste. It was a hit with all of us!

Now that the blind tasting was over, I revealed all the beers and we went through the tasting one more time. I planned on getting some new input the second time through, while asking for favorites, but we had just enough alcohol in us to skip all that for the sake of YouTube and the inevitable: cute kitten videos… in French.