It's five o'clock in Seoul, right? Either way, check out these craft breweries. —INGRAIN, Summer 2018
STORY / Simon Hwangbo
For hops-minded travelers, the mekju (beer) lover’s bucket list has shifted to Eastern shores. In Seoul, anju (bar snacks) like fried squid, soy-spiced pig’s trotters, and kimchi with tofu are served alongside a new generation of local craft beers. The tasting possibilities are growing almost as quickly as South Korea’s capital city.
Though Seoul’s first commercial brewery opened more than a century ago, the craft beer bounty in South Korea was short-lived. Two large commercial breweries—and the light, rice-based lagers they produce—have long dominated the market. For decades, restrictive legislation (only those breweries producing more than 1 million liters of beer annually were granted licenses) as well as stringent import and distribution laws left the country thirsty for new tastes.
“TODAY, SEOUL HAS MORE THAN TWO DOZEN MICRO-BREWERIES THAT UTILIZE MANY OF THE INNOVATIVE METHODS DEVELOPED BY AMERICAN CRAFT BREWERS, INCLUDING BARREL AGING AND WILD FERMENTATION.”
At the turn of the millennium, the first of many legislative changes began to pop the top at both ends of the South Korean beer market. Revised distribution laws opened the door for craft beer bars to stock their shelves with a wider selection of both imported and local brews while significant decreases in brewery production requirements (first reduced to 150,000, then to 50,000 liters of beer annually) fueled a microbrewery revolution. By 2016, more than 100 new brewing licenses had been granted in South Korea.
BREWING IN THE CITY
Today, Seoul has more than two dozen microbreweries that utilize many of the innovative methods developed by American craft brewers, including barrel aging and wild fermentation. Many of these brewers use ingredients traditionally found in Korean cuisine, while others grow their own hops. Craft imports from international breweries such as Goose Island (Chicago), Ballast Point (San Diego), Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn), and Mikkeller (Copenhagen) are also making their mark and gaining popularity in Seoul.
WHERE TO DRINK CRAFT BEER IN SEOUL
27-12 Seongsu-dong 1(il)-ga, Seongdong-gu
The atmosphere at this circa 1950 refurbished carpenter’s workshop is a step back in time, though the small-batch, seasonal beers are anything but old-school. Expect to find experimental ingredients like coriander, orange peel, and Sichuan pepper in that gose.
TASTE Start with the Cheotsarang (first love), an ode to an American-style IPA, before moving on to the brewery’s latest experimental riffs.
118m Yeoksam-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Goose Island Beer Company opened its first brewpub in South Korea nearly two years ago. It serves up Goose favorites in addition to an ever-evolving selection of house beers brewed exclusively on-site. Grab a seat on the rooftop and take in the skyscraper-lined city views with a round of beer and American pub snacks inspired by local flavors.
TASTE Duck Duck Goose, an Australian summer ale with tropical aromas befitting Korean cuisine, is brewed exclusively at the Seoul brewpub.
12-2 Sajik-ro 12- gil, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu
The Seoul pub run by the Namyangju-based brewery of the same name excels at the brewery’s seasonal selections like fresh-hopped IPAs and a variety of brews featuring local ingredients such as yeot (sweet Korean taffy).
TASTE The seasonal beers, brewed in very limited quantities, go fast. A recent sighting: a beer brewed using sesame leaves in place of hops.
74-7 Yulgok-ro 1-gil, Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu
Here dancheong (colorful wall paintings on wood buildings), a giwa (Korean tile roof), and traditional seating await guests. The beer ranges from regional Korean brews to international options.
TASTE Cultural history buffs: This is the place to try a traditional, and very light, Korean rice-based pilsner before moving on to bigger flavors.
In the mood for some Korean flavors at home? Check out these recipes:
La Galbi (Korean BBQ Short Ribs)
Bulgogi ("Fire Meat")
Mul Naengmyeon (Ice-cold Noodle Soup)
Bo Ssam (Spicy Boiled Pork)