Regional Craft Beers Catch on in Korea

  • By Kim Choong-ryung

    August 12, 2017 08:30

    Regional craft beers are starting to enjoy the same popularity in Korea as they do in other hipster parts of the world. "It lends uniqueness and an air of luxury to a beer if it's produced in small batches, and it stimulates the curiosity of consumers over mass-produced mainstream beers," an industry insider says.

    Global craft beer maker Brooklyn Brewery is due to launch Jeju Beer in Korea next month, which is allegedly made with pure spring water from the resort island.

    Local patriots are enthusiastic customers. Superstore chain Homeplus sold 7.7 times more Haeundae Beer in its Haeundae store in Busan than elsewhere, while sales of Gangseo Beer in its store in Gangseo, Seoul, were 3.2 times higher than the national average.

    Kim Seon-hyeong, a 35-year-old who went on holiday at Haeundae Beach in Busan in mid-July naturally drank Haeundae Beer there. "It's like buying the local beer when you travel abroad," Kim says. "It feels like it suits the local atmosphere and local food better than mainstream beer."

    This trend is not just limited to beer. Baesangmyun Brewery has launched Korean rice wine or makgeolli with regional names such as Gongdeok-dong and Sillim-dong. A staffer at Baesangmyun Brewery said, "They carry district names, so they're more specific than just the region, so I think consumers find them more special."

    Models promote craft beers at a store in Seoul. /Courtesy of Homeplus

    In North America and Europe, many alcoholic drinks are named for their place of origin, such as Germany's Erdinger after a small town just outside Munich, and Weihenstephaner after the hilltop monastery where it is brewed.

    Lee Jung-chang at Konkuk University, said, "There are big regional variations in flavor because each region uses different hop and water. This is why many breweries use the names of the region or maybe a regional saint."

    But in Korea image tops substance. Haeundae Beer is actually brewed in Eumseong, North Chungcheong Province, and Gangseo Beer is produced in Hoengseong, Gangwon Province. "We named Haeundae Beer to accentuate the cool image of Korea's largest beach, and Gangseo Beer because the maker's headquarters is in Gangseo," explained Homeplus.

    Dalseo Beer from Daegu is also produced in Hoengseong, but was named for the color of sunsets in Duryu Park. And Gangnam Beer, which is due to be sold through E-Mart, is made not in the swish part of southern Seoul whose name it bears but in Canada.

    "Consumers are being misled into thinking that they are drinking craft beer made in a small local brewery," says one skeptical insider. "If they want to gain the trust of consumers in the long term, brewers have to make more of an effort to develop their own characteristics that set them apart from mainstream beers."

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