|Scout, a small 28-seat drink-and-dine spot in Hannam-dong, serves Magpie Brewing Co.’s unfiltered Pale Ale and Porter straight from the tap along with great eats.|
(Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Hearld)
These days, craft beer, the heady stuff brewed in small batches by independent-minded folks, flows freely from taps throughout Seoul.
Locally-produced, unfiltered and potent to the palate, these brews have been attracting a great deal of press recently, mainly because only a decade ago the craft beer market was microscopic at best.
Beer aficionados probably remember when micro brewpub beer first took off in the city. As 7Brau CEO Kim Kang-sam remembers it, the year was 2002, the World Cup was taking Seoul by storm, and brewpubs were popping up everywhere.
“That was the brewpub’s golden era,” said craft beer company 7Brau CEO Kim, 54.
Brewed on the premises, these craft beers, says Craftworks LLC founder Dan Vroon, were primarily of German lineage ― dunkel, hefeweizen and pilsner, to be more exact ― and could only be enjoyed at that one spot and nowhere else.
That was craft beer at its smallest scale.
Then in 2011, two guys who used to be in the brewpub business ― 7Brau and Kapa ― nabbed some very rare standard beer production licenses.
Those licenses allow them to brew beer for more than one establishment, facilitating the growth of Seoul’s craft beer scene.
Before that, only two 80-plus-year-old beer goliaths ― Oriental Brewery and Hite Jinro ― could distribute beer, dominating the local beer market.
Instead of only focusing on making their own brews, Gapyeong County-based Kapa and Gangwon Province-based 7Brau have put their equipment and facilities to full use, doing beer production for well-known craft beer businesses, Magpie Brewing Co. and Craftworks, as well.
The timely meeting of guys with the means and maverick-minded, artisanal brew folk with their own recipes is playing a key role in the nascent craft movement gaining a meaningful albeit small foothold in the domestic beer industry.
“We’re really fortunate that Park Chul and just the whole team there, that they’ve opened their doors to us,” Magpie and Scout co-owner Erik Moynihan acknowledged how Kapa CEO Park helped Magpie’s craft brews take flesh.
Kapa’s Park Chul, who acquired his brewing know-how in Germany, explained that while his company acts as a producer-brewery for Magpie’s and Craftworks’ beer, each brand retains its own individual personality.
“It is because the method of production is different,” said Park, 59. “Furthermore, if you change up the hops and the yeast then the beer tastes different. This is what makes craft beer craft beer.”
Contract brewing is nothing new in the world of craft beer, because the cost of producing beer can be too much for a small, independent brewery starting out on its own.
“Contract brewing is quite common in overseas developed beer markets,” said Kapa’s Park.
What the current situation seems to signal is the relative youthfulness of Korea’s craft beer industry or, as Craftworks’ Vroon put it, we are “just dipping our toes in the water.”
“I don’t think that it’s hit its apex yet,” Vroon, 43, said of the local craft beer trend.
That apex may not be too far distant.
Provided there are no legal obstacles, “I’m expecting 15 new beer companies next year,” predicted Magpie’s Moynihan, 32.
Kapa CEO Park Chul agreed that 2014 could bring a slew of new breweries to the playing field.
So where should the craft beer hungry masses go in the meantime?
Here’s a look at three businesses that are making their mark.Craftworks Taphouse
|At Craftworks Taphouse’s newly-minted Downtown outlet in Euljiro, patrons can try all seven of the brand’s tasty craft brews via the sampler. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
Three years ago Kapa’s Park teamed up with Vroon to start the now fairly legendary Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro, which began as a pub in Seoul’s Gyeongnidan selling tasty unfiltered craft beer to thirsty locals.
“It was about trying to do something unique with the great beers that Chul was doing at Kapa,” said Vroon.
That something special was a huge success and within three years Craftworks has boomed into a four location business, with one of its most recent additions the newly-minted Craftworks Taphouse Downtown in Euljiro near Myeongdong.
Craftworks Downtown general manager Maurizio Ventrone had nothing but praise for the company’s seven brews, which are overseen by Craftworks’ own head brewer and produced by Ka-Brew.
The Jirisan Moon Bear India Pale Ale, which is crafted from Centennial, Cascade and Chinook hops, is a strong seller at Craftworks Downtown, according to Ventrone.
“There is definitely a heightened awareness of what craft beer is and awareness of Craftworks,” said Ventrone, 38.
“Craft beer in Korea at the moment is very hot,” Craftworks Downtown’s holding company Thor Limited CEO Cody Hunter, 34, added.Magpie Brewing Co. and Scout
|Scout’s beef keema curry fries — a spice-loaded, palate-tingling dish — pairs well with Magpie Brewing Co.’s fragrant brews. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
Magpie took root when five friends found themselves frustrated with the beer scene in Korea.
“We started it as a hobby because we missed beer,” Magpie’s Moynihan explained how after he arrived in Korea in 2007, he turned to D.I.Y. means to get the beer he craved. “I learned to homebrew in Korea.”
When peers started hounding the quintet for their handcrafted beer, the five decided to set up shop, christening their collective brewing enterprise Magpie in April 2012.
Ka-Brew and 7Brau produce Magpie’s beer, which currently comprises a citrusy, fragrant, multi-layered pale ale and a slightly chocolatey, light-to-medium-bodied porter.
“The grain bill is quite simple,” Moynihan revealed of Magpie’s addictive pale ale, which seems to get its potent aroma profile from hops. “We use a lot of hops and use them a lot of different times.”
“Magpie Amber is still in the testing phase,” Moynihan said of the third beer awaiting its release.
Plans are to get a solid five beer line-up before putting out seasonal brews.
“We should have an IPA before the end of the year,” he added.
Not wishing to turn into a chain of pubs, Magpie co-owners Moynihan and Tiffany Needham teamed up with Jeremy Kovacik for an utterly charming independent act called Scout that opened this summer.
Situated in an increasingly hip little alleyway in Hannam-dong near Hangangjin Station, the small 28-seat space not only dishes out fresh Magpie brews from the tap, it also serves up palate-tingling fare like cilantro-rich beef keema curry fries.
Add to that the laidback, friendly atmosphere of the staff for a place that truly reflects the bohemian attitude of its owners.
“This is all about that tight connection, that really family kind of feeling that you get when you walk into a place,” said Scout co-owner Kovacik, 27.7Brau Pub
|7Brau Pub, which opened in Seoul’s Yeouido, sports eight craft beers on tap, including two tasty new additions, 7Brau’s Mild Ale and Fake Lager. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
After obtaining a beer production permit in 2011, craft beer company 7Brau put out IPA-in-a-can to be sold in select marts the following year.
Then this September, the first 7Brau Pub was launched in Seoul’s Yeouido.
Eight brews, six of which are unfiltered and several of which were specially developed for the pub, are on tap.
Two new additions, Fake Lager and Mild Ale, sport fun flavor profiles that merit a try.
7Brau director Kim Kyo-ju, 38, explained how the fruity Mild Ale with a bitter bite at the end gets its eclectic personality from a variety of hops, while the Fake Lager, which is redolent of caramel when allowed to warm up a little in the glass, gets its flavor profile from its ale-like attitude.
“We did a lager-style cold fermentation with ale-centric ingredients,” 7Brau’s Kim explained of the Fake Lager.
Of the decision to open a 7Brau-branded spot in Yeouido via the pub brand’s chain company Mcdoga, 7Brau Pub director Song Ho-hyun, 38, explained, “The craft beer market was limited to Itaewon and Gyeongnidan. This is an area that has a lot of office workers and now they don’t need to cross the river to get their craft beer fix.”
More craft beer in more locations; that is what is happening at the moment, which is good news for artisanal beer lovers.■ Craftworks Taphouse Downtown
Pine Avenue B, Level B1, 2C3 Euljiro 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul / (02) 6031-0035
Seven brews available from 7,000 won to 8,000 won, a seasonal Hobak Pumpkin Spiced IPA at 8,500 won to be released soon, sampler of all brews costs 10,500 won■ Scout
683-31 Hannam 2-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 5 p.m. to midnight
Magpie Pale Ale and Porter costs 6,000 won to 7,000 won■ 7Brau Pub
13-2 Yeouido-dong, Yeungdeungpo-gu, Seoul / (070) 4117-0770
Open 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily
Eight different brews available ranging from 6,000 won to 9,000 won, sampler of four costs 10,000 won, sampler of six costs 15,000 won
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org)