It’s no secret that Korea’s beer leaves expats homesick for a flavorful pint that keeps its head longer than a coke.
A more closely guarded secret though, is that there are an ever-growing army of brewpubs in Seoul brewing and serving their own beer. Earlier in the year, I started to explore the emerging craft beer scene with a feature looking at six brewpubs south of the Han.
Following is the sequel to that piece, this time venturing north in search of the city’s top pint.
Although the Gangnam branch topped the list in the southern category, Sinchon’s Oktoberfest leaves patrons somewhat disappointed. The wheat, pilsner and dunkel beers that draw people to their larger pub are all available on tap, but brewed off the premises, leaving a less atmospheric bar (no brewing kettles) and sometimes a less-than-fresh beer.
Likewise, the breadsticks that draw even non-drinkers to Gangnam aren’t necessarily made to order, though they can be good for giving your jaw a work out! Disappointing but infinitely preferable to drinking Hite.
When: Every day 4 p.m.-1 a.m.
Where: Sinchon station, opposite Outback How much: 500cc = 5,000 won
If you live way up north or can be bothered with the trek from central Seoul, Rosenbrau is another brewpub producing draft beer on the premises. Like most Korean bars serving house beer, as it’s often known, the menu features German-style brews, but includes a hoppy Kölsch alongside the standard (but quite palatable) pints of helles, weizen and dunkel.
For top comedy value, opt for their liter yard of ale and attempt to drink your share without dousing your jeans in booze.
Since it’s such a slog to get out there, make a day of it. Picnic first in nearby Lake Park, home to South Korea’s largest man-made lake, and fit in some shopping at the La Festa mall before moving on to the altogether more entertaining business of getting slowly drunk.
When: Every day 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Where: La Festa, Ilsan (Jeongbalsan Station, Line 3) How much: 400cc = 4,400 won
3. Castle Praha
OK, so we mentioned Praha in the south of the river article, but their pubs north of the Han are so striking they deserve their own write-up. The huge Hongdae branch is known for its elaborate castle-like exterior and the theme continues inside with chandeliers hanging overhead and suits of armor hiding in dark corners.
Enjoy a wood-fired pizza and a pint of their granat beer and find a table in the cavernous bar -- just don’t arrange to meet friends inside; you’ll never find them! The Itaewon branch is small and uber-stylish with chic decor, a bistro-style menu and of course, the usual range of tasty beers.
When: Every day 11:30 a.m.-midnight
Where: Hongdae and Itaewon
How much: 400cc = 5,500 won
2. Ka Brew
So we’re wandering way north of the river here, but believe me -- the trek is worth it.
Clinging to the bank of a narrow stream in Gapyeong, 70 km northeast of Seoul, Ka Brew is one of the country’s more adventurous breweries. As well as being the fine people who work to import Alley Kat, they brew a range of beers including a rather average stout, a very drinkable German ale and a flavorful wheat beer.
Alas, they don’t have regular drinking hours, but keep an eye out for their special events -- booze cruises on the Han and all you can drink (and eat) barbeques on the deck outside their brewery.
When: Open for special events
How much: Depends on the event
1. Alley Kat Pubs
Available across the country, Alley Kat is a hoppy India Pale Ale imported from Canada and is one of the most palatable pints on the peninsula. In Itaewon there are a bunch of bars serving up this surprisingly well-priced beer, including the cozy Three Alley Pub and the ever-popular Sam Ryan’s upstairs.
And really -- is there any better way to enjoy a fine pint than with some food that reminds you of home, whether it’s wings, ribs or a steak and ale pie?
Where: Throughout Seoul and the rest of the country, with the highest concentration in Itaewon How much: 500cc = 4,500 won
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; the opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. -- Ed.
The expert’s view
Rob Titley is a beer connoisseur and award-winning homebrewer. He founded homebrewkorea.com and is on a mission to prove that there’s always an alternative to sipping a mass-produced lager.
Expat Living asked him about Korea’s beer scene and where he goes to find a fine pint:
“I’d have to say that the beer scene in Korea is lacking. I think there is a demand for better beer in this country, but the supply just isn‘t there. Government regulations definitely don’t make it easy -- high import taxes on beer and large quotas for brewpub status make it difficult for people to enter the business.
“The government needs to do more; make more changes to encourage growth and give more opportunities for the small, local breweries to enter the market. However, things are improving, albeit slowly. I’ve been in Korea for nearly seven years and have definitely seen a change in the beer scene. While most of the big brewpubs were open or about to open back then, not much bottled beer was available. A much wider selection is now available at the supermarkets, which is definitely a good thing -- being able to get a bottle of Paulaner or Sam Adams from some convenience store is a huge step up.
“As for draft beer, I naturally drink a lot of my own homebrew, but I’m always up for a pint of Platinum Ale or a pilsner at Oktoberfest. However, while Korean beers are getting better, I’d have to say that the best draft beer on offer right now has to be Alley Kat.”
By Lucy Corne