(Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea)
Amazingly enough, Friday the 13th and the title of this article are purely coincidental.
I had high hopes for Devil’s Door as it’s in a trendy area, near the express bus terminal in Gangnam, and is relatively new. A short time after being there we realized that the vibe was a forced version of trendy-hipster, the food was seriously overpriced, and the beers were alright, but nothing to write home about.
The Devils Door Pale Ale might as well have been a by the numbers light ale. No real character or distinct qualities that I could even pick out of this beer. I could down tons of these on a sunny afternoon, but I wouldn’t really enjoy myself.
Helles Lager was by far the best of the bunch. Fitting to the style- it was a malty version of a typical crisp, Czech pilsner. Koreans seem to be big fans of the pils and this was a nice change of pace to what’s been on tap lately. I definitely recommend this one as the summer months begin to get muggy and hot.
The Devil’s Door IPA had all the makings of your typical “we made an IPA because everybody has to make an IPA” IPA. A blending of hop characters with no distinction of its own.
Devil’s Door stout could have been alright if it wasn’t a watery mess. It had some nice chocolate undertones, and a savory coffee finish, but didn’t impress me.
I wonder if it has more to do with the fact that, as much as they try to pass it off as such, it’s not really a local micro-brewery; it’s operated and managed by Shinsegae Foods. It would be like if a chain mall like Tanger Outlets had a brewery pop up- it might be fun if there’s nothing else around, but with some healthy competition nearby, it’s very underwhelming.
I’m always willing to give a brewery another try, but, for now, I give Devil’s Door Brewery a 5.49 out of 10
(Gangnam, Seoul, SK)
I’ve had Booth’s Kukmin IPA and their Great God of Fun Red Ale at local pubs, but a day in and around the Sinsadong and Socheogu neighborhoods of Gangnam wouldn’t be complete without a trip to The Booth brewery and drinking some of their drafts in person. I’m going to judge this place Seoul-ly by what we put in our mouths this time rather than including any other aspects, simply because we loved every bite and every drop. They didn’t offer flights, so we had a few pints, we treated ourselves to fried veggies that actually consisted of assorted fried veggies, not just different forms of potato, and we had THE best NY style slice we’ve had since landing in Korea (almost a year ago).
We started with Boilermaker
Kolsch. Boilermaker is a collaboration with Distill Brewing and features an impressive, light and fruity flavor, not to mention only 5.5% abv, for being blended with whiskey and aged for 6 weeks. I really can’t tell you how much I loved this brew.
We followed it up with Brett IPA. Another solid IPA performance by The Booth. Brett pushed into my tastebuds with a tangy start and followed with a fruity character that I couldn’t put my finger on. This is the standard of the new brettanomyces IPAs on the forefront of the scene. What wasn’t standard was the light, bubbly, almost champagne quality of this brew.
We finished with The Beer Pilgrim’s Porter and I couldn’t have been more impressed. This porter gave me hope for Korean dark beers. Pilgrim had a great character balance of coffee, chocolate, and malts all while maintaining a robust body and thicker mouthfeel than all of the stouts I have had in the country thus far.
All in all, I give The Booth a 9.05 out of 10.
(Pocheon, South Korea)
Pocheon is consistently rated one of the top small town escapes in all of Korea with hiking trails, an abandoned rock quarry/art valley, and an herb-themed island. Add the fact that they have designated an entire compound to the cultural appreciation and making of the nectar of the gods and I’m there! Just outside of town, down a dusty road, next door to an abandoned barn fully equipped with its own mangy cat, lies Baesangmyun (BSM) Brewery- though they do make one beer: the worlds only 100% rice lager (not to mention the only gluten-free beer I’ve ever had that doesn’t taste like complete poooooo), ‘distillery’ would be a more appropriate title for the location. Whatever you want to call them- this place is worth the trip.
After a stroll through the museum with everything from early harvesting tools and distilling machines to hundreds of pages of recipes and a replica of the founder’s office we made our way to the tasting room and were given plastic shot glasses. We were then told rather than starting light and making our way to the strong stuff we should start strong “so we aren’t already too drunk when we get to the end”. Never one to ignore sound logic- we jumped right in.
First up, was what I would say was akin to moonshine or strong Korean vodka. At first glance, I would have guessed soju, but at 60% alcohol (compared to soju’s 20%ish) I could not have been more wrong. There were three total: 1 sweet potato, 1 persimmon, and one apple. I’m glad I tried it, but I couldn’t taste much past the initial burn- these guys were not for the faint of heart or for someone who enjoys having nose hair. On the other hand, if there are any 500-year-old Korean men reading this article you should be just fine, as the man who housed 5 or-so shots of each right next to me can attest.
Next up was a round of sojus and Korean wines. One standard soju similar to many others to be had in Korea followed by a green plum wine and bokbunja-um which is a black raspberry wine. I loved the bokbunja as it burst with ripe berries and brandy-like burn. Side note; it’s also known as “the old man’s virility”.
Next was sool. Sool, a once popular Korean beverage, nearly died out after the Korean war with the influx of more popular American drinks and is slowly, but surely, being revived back to life almost exclusively by BSM. Though, techically, sool just means alcohol the style has come to be known differently from soju and other spirits. That being said- I hated each one of them. I love the backstory and I support the movement, but I wasn’t a fan of sweet tarts followed by a skunks ass.
Last, but certainly not leased were four varieties of my favorite Korean drink: makgeolli (see my first makgeolli article: here). The first was a bit too far down on the chalky and bitter end, but the next three were delightful. I finished with Slow City makgeolli: Another BSM revival in the heart of Seoul.
We left with some R4 Rice Lager, a buzz, and some inspiration. Though I didn’t love as many of the drinks as I’d hoped, BSM is about so much more than just your palate. I am going to give this place my first and probably only ever split rating. I give the Baesangmyun Brewery an 8 out of 10, but I give the Sansawon cultural experience a 10.1 out of 10.
(Busan, South Korea)
Galmegi, or the seagull in Korean, fits right in with a beach town like Busan. We spent the afternoon day drinking in the sun, made a few pit stops along the way, and strolled into Galmegi for phase 3 (or 4?). I ordered a flight, The Editor ordered a pint and we split a delicious, Korean twist on an American classic: kimchi fries.
Galmegi is all over Busan and rumor is that they have a location in the works for Seoul as well and for good reason. Though I think South Korea still has a long way to go when it comes to producing the quality IPAs and stouts that the US is pumping out, Galmegi is far and away the best brewery we have been to in Korea.
We started off with Yuja Gose. I’m not overly fond of goses in general, but this one was a nice break from the mundane. The salty and tart first sip was delicately balanced by the sweet yuja. A yuja is like a Korean pomelo. More often than not, I feel that berries, apples, and many other fruits don’t hold up to the brewing process. Yuja Gose perfectly captures the essence of this fruit.
Next up was Campfire Amber. It’s been a long time since I’ve smiled after a sip of an amber ale. They can get ruined quite easily and all too often brewers are just pouring in malt and hoping it turns out alright. A slight dryness was immediately followed by a delightful sweetness while toffee and caramel dance around this Campfire and I, for one, was very impressed.
Following up the first two stellar beers was Galmegi IPA. This one tasted an aweful lot like an IPA-by-numbers that was made to fill a spot in the lineup. Bitter with no sweetness and American hops with no substance.
I’m also beginning to think my next quest should be a stout in Korea that I actually enjoy. Espresso Vanilla Stout was all espresso and no vanilla. Lacked balance and any mouthfeel on the way down.
Saving the best for last was the Red Devil RyPa. An amazing balance of bitter hops (75 IBUs), dry rye, and a sweet (7.0 ABV) malt backbone. They say it’s a summer seasonal just for the world cup, but I hope this becomes a mainstay and becomes widely accessible in my North Seoul neck of the woods. Well done.
There weren’t really any ‘tweeners’ on this flight. I loved or I hated, but it’s definitely worth the trip to one of their locations if you’re in Busan. All in all, I give Galmegi Brewing Company an 8.45 out of 10.
(Hongdae, Seoul, SK)
I’m quickly coming to the realization that Korea doesn’t really believe in flights/samplers/tastings. It’s quite common to see a “sampler” on the menu for $25- $50, which consists of 4 -10 full sized pints. I don’t really have a logical reply for this: If you want me to just order a full glass of each one of your beers I will, but I’d much rather sample a few and then drink a dozen pints of my favorite. This also makes it hard to write one of these articles. Nonetheless, this past weekend I had a great time on a self-guided, mini bar crawl in Mapogu, Seoul. There are quite a few German-style and Czech-style pubs serving up food, Cass (Korean bud light) and half a dozen house brews: Two very popular examples are to follow.
Castle Praha is Czech style brewpub with a Bohemian church feel smacked dab in the middle of Korean style- stores, on stores, on stores. We ordered some sausages and schnitzel (duh) and a few pints. I had the weizen, the Merlin Cerny, and the stout.
The weizen was your typical, unfiltered, Bavarian wheat: sweet, hint of banana and cloves- nothing special, but it was drinkable and paired well with the food.
I tried to find out if Merlin Cerny or just Cerny was a style I have just never heard of before. Turns out it’s the beer name and Cerny is actually a common Czech name meaning dark. This brew had similar characteristics of malty, American brews. No real aroma here, but a nice balance of toffee, malt, and hops. Merlin Cerny earns some additional style points for being thicker and creamier than the stout that followed.
I will argue with anyone in the greater Eurasian multi-continent: America makes the best stouts. Flavor is one thing and I’ve had a few that can keep up, but the mouthfeel is another, and they don’t hold a candle. I want my stout to be more like lunch. Rant over.
The food and beers were alright, but being transported away from seeing ‘the same, but different’ of everyday Korea gave Castle Praha the opportunity to squeak out a higher rating. I give an 8.0 out of 10.
Queen’s Head Brewpub has a similar feel, but rather than the in-your-face effect of the Castle they have a bit more of a nestled, secret hideaway vibe going on. Queen’s Head mustered the German equivalent of the Czech castle with a pilsner, weizen, and dunkle. I refrained from the first.
The weizen was filtered, making it crisper and cleaner, but where it lacked in body it also lacked in flavor.
The dunkle was one of the best beers I have had in Korea. It was truly rich and creamy, with a chocolate, nuttiness that caused me to order the biggest one they had.
The nachos tasted like Lunchables chips and cheese dip and the weizen was subpar in comparison to its predecessor, but the dunkle was real quality- earning Queen’s Head an 8.1 out of 10.
**2019 Edit- No longer in business
Despite Bangkok being more of a cheap beer and street food kind of town than a craft beer kind of town I couldn’t very well leave Thailand without tracking down a brewery to add to the list. We now added a third country to our stats and have no desire to stop anytime soon. I should have Bobby V write me a song: “Craft beerin’ all over the world”. Before I begin- it should also be noted the capital ‘R’ is not a typo. Anyway, we ordered our first non-Thai meal in over a week (still not sure if I was excited or disappointed by that), a flight, and got down to business.
The first brew was Goldilocks blonde. This blonde has slightly more body than normal and light sweetness that accompanied a subtle hop character. Easy to drink during the day for sure- Goldilocks wasn’t too sweet or too bitter, too warm or too cold, too big or too small… this one was juuuust right.
Jackal Pale ale was another surprisingly well-balanced brew. I’ve said this before, but sometimes the pale ale can be left by the wayside in a brewery’s line up. Jackal was a bit on the sweet side and not overly hopped, but the superior drinkability really pushed this one into the plus side for me. I think Bruce Willis would approve.
Hunter’s IPA missed its mark. Actually, it sat in the tree stand for 12 hours and did even fire a shot. Five years ago I may have been ok with this IPA, but it really was lacking any hop profile at all; even though it’s still not my favorite style I can still recognize quality or not.
The last brew, sadly, was more of the same in terms of stouts I’ve had in Asia thus far. Gorilla Stout wasn’t completely incompetent in the flavor department, but when you drink a dark beer and it’s thinner than a pilser…or water, that’s a problem.
I’m still glad we went and Off the Wagon Tasting got to add a new feather to the hat, but it’s a bit off the beaten path, a bit overpriced, particularly for Bangkok, and I wasn’t in love with the beer. I can honestly say it’s the best (only) burger I have ever had in Thailand, but still- all in all, I give 3 BeaRs Brewing a 7.2 out of 10.
‘Til next time- Chịyo!
(Jongno, Seoul, SK)
After the lantern festival and our stroll through a maze of alleyways, we stumbled on to Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro for a couple of more pints. They were out of two of their beers and we didn’t really love the vibe, but sometimes that just comes with a trendy area. We were also hoping to snack, and the food looked good, but the prices were a bit much for the announced “45-60 minute wait”.
We started with Hallasan Golden Ale. It was surprisingly flavorful for a blonde: Hallasan was light and crisp, but it also had some subtle unfiltered qualities like a medium bodied Hefe or a lighter Saison. Not the best I’ve ever had, but I recommend giving it a try.
Geumgang Mountain Dark Ale faltered in every beer drinker’s category. Thin, flavorless, bitter in the wrong spots, no head, no lacing… Not a fan.
We decided to head out after two. We’re not sure if they’re trying to be known as bearworks rather than beerworks- we had a good time trying to figure that out, but all in all, I was rather unimpressed. I give Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro a 5.5 out of 10.
A few weeks back we went to a ceremonial SK lantern festival and checked out the local brew scene after. The Table Brewing company is smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood full of alleys that dip in and out of the main drag, food trucks perched next to restaurants and a general festival feel to the everyday. Flights weren’t available, so we split a few pints and some grub and enjoyed the downstairs vibe.
We started off with The Table IPA: Light and crisp, fruity and citrusy. It’s been my experience that Korean craft beer is about superior drinkability and less about overpowering flavors. This is no different.
The second brew was a real bell-ringer (Insert sly, Grinch-like smile.) Bosingak Dunkel lost some points for being paper thin with a watery mouthfeel, but came through big time in the roasted malt and barley department. Not a traditional dunkel, but another solid addition to The Table.
Next up was Nugget Ale. Wasn’t really nutty, which is what I was expecting, but this dark amber/light brown was everything I’ve been looking for in the malt and caramel department; Not overly sweet and not ruined by a hop profile that doesn’t match. Well done.
Let’s Stout- NO. Sorry.
The food’s not good compared to what you can get in the area, but they’re pumping out some decent brew. All in all, I give The Table Brewing Company a 7.49 out of 10.