If you were thirsty for a draft beer as little as four years ago, you were forced to choose between domestically-produced Cass, Hite, OB and little else. While quality imported beer in the bottle wasn’t much of a problem, if you didn’t mind the price, the selection of draft was another story.
Andy Lee, a 20-year veteran of the beer industry and owner of an importing company that supplies Big Rock beer from Alberta, Canada, explains that upstarts in the Korean beer market were only recently freed up to give consumers more options.
When I started in the industry, in 1993, taxes on imported beer and whiskey were 150 percent, Lee said. In 2006, the taxes came down to 72 percent.
According to Wayne Gold, co-owner of The Wolfhound Irish Pubs in Seoul and in Busan, only two companies owned all Korean brands until recently. This duopoly limited both the selection and the channels for craft beers to get to market.
The law required a minimum production of about 100,000 liters, Gold explained. So it was impossible for the microbrews and craft beers to enter the market.
A study by domestic store chain Lotte Mart reported that imported beer sales increased 41 percent since this time last summer, and that imported beer outsold wine for the first time.
The watershed moment came two and a half years ago, when the brew limit law changed. Along with noticeable shifts brought on by free trade agreements and lower tariffs on imported beers, microbrewed beers, such as foreign-owned Craftworks in Seoul, started popping up. All of a sudden, previously tariff-strapped importers could ply their craft in the Korean market.
Another major contribution to the burgeoning availability of great beer in Korea is Sung Lee, the president and founder of Brewmasters International, a beer import company that brings in popular brands from Lost Coast Brewery, Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Rogue Ales and some complex, highly sought-after Belgian ales.
I would make regular trips to Korea to visit the in-laws and it drove me up the wall not being able to drink a good beer, said Lee, who was born in Incheon but moved to New York. That’s why I founded Brewmasters.
Recently, a study by domestic store chain Lotte Mart reported that imported beer sales increased 41 percent since this time last summer, and that imported beer outsold wine for the first time. Other industry experts have taken note of the rising demand for imported beer over the last decade, and they agree: this isn’t just a fad.
Much of the change in Koreans’ shift to higher-end beer can be attributed to rising incomes and the 14 million Koreans who annually travel abroad and have access to a variety of beer.
Sampling the local scene here in Busan, Wayne Gold said that 60-70 percent of Koreans are reaching for a kind, well-crafted microbrew. Stephane Turcotte, brewer and owner of Galmegi Brewery in Gwangalli, has seen a similar trend.
On weeknights, 60 percent of our guests are Korean, mostly female, and they mostly prefer our India Pale Ale, said Turcotte.
With this rising trend in mind, we’ll now offer seven bars and pubs that offer either their own distinct microbrewed craft beers or serve the best draft in Busan. Also remember that all serve great pub grub, which exemplifies how the right beer can enhance the right dish.
Some Good Spots for Great Beer and Food[tps_header][/tps_header][/tps_header]
[tps_title]Galmegi Brewery (Gwangalli)[/tps_title]
Stephane Turcotte and partners handcraft their excellent beers in small batches, and Galmegi has become the epicenter for PUB (Pusan Union of Homebrewers). Depending on availability, they offer up to five original brews in a comfortable setting with a mixed crowd and friendly vibe. While the dry hopped, cold conditioned, bitter yet balanced IPA is the most popular, the amber ale pairs well with the earthy flavors of the funghi pizza topped with imported truffle oil. Also, Galmegi and PUB will be presenting a Summer Beer Festival on August 24 where guests can sample six or more distinct homebrews including a Ginseng Pale Ale, Ginger Beer, and an exciting Saison Belgian Farmhouse Ale.