06/30/09

A Korean Beer Quest II: Seoul Microbreweries

While traveling abroad I found myself in Korea for two weeks with no real agenda. So one evening I decided to take a friend’s advice and explore the city’s Apgujeong district, known as ‘Apgu’ for short. Apgu is known to be the city’s high end residential, fashion, and restaurant district. To my surprise, mixed in amongst Seoul’s numerous soju tents (quite an experience), trendy martini bars, clubs, and dives, I found two hidden gems. I was lucky enough to stumble upon not just one, but two microbreweries, and only blocks apart.

The first of the microbreweries was a bit of an eclectic establishment referred to, on their card at least, as Cafe, Pops Cool. The small staff consisting of a manager, a waitress, and a cook were all incredibly polite, and this was despite my lackluster Korean language skills. Communication at times was definitely a challenge, but all part of the local experience. Nevertheless, beer is a universal language, and once the staff recognized I was an advocate I was offered a tour of the premise, including the brewery. The brewery was quite small, but still impressive. That night they were serving two options a light beer and a black dunkel; I had both. The dunkel was definitely my preference, but both were vastly superior to the Korean mass-produced beer Hite or OB. Cafe, Pops Cool is definitely a good option for a quality brew from a friendly staff while touring Apgu.

Next on the list was Platinum Microbrewery also located in Apgu (there are apparently two in Seoul). This bar/restaurant was clearly designed to be more modern and high-end when compared to Cafe, Pops Cool’s, and this showed in the prices. It was a rather large dimly lit space that would be great for a date. The food and beer list was quite extensive with seven beers on tap. The food was decent, and the beer was satisfactory. However, I preferred the dark beer from Cafe, Pops Cool to any of Platinum’s selections. But, if you do find yourself visiting be sure to try the beer sampler, its the biggest bang for your Won. If my memory serves me correctly, then I believe Platinum’s Belgium White, at least to me, was the most impressive option.

If you liked this article then you would likely find this posting from seoulgirl discussing Seoul microbreweries, especially Platinum, an interesting read.

Also, I will soon be visiting the Seatlle area, and hope to do some beer related touring and tasting, so please email me or leave some comments to this post with any suggestions.

06/29/09

A Korean Beer Quest: Into the DMZ


This may sound cliché, but this is how it happened… One Sunday evening while I was touring a famous section of Seoul called Apgujeong; I stepped into an unassuming bar aptly named Rock and Roll Pub. There I sat drinking very reasonably priced Leffe Browns when I noticed another American. Being friendly as I am I went over and said hello. This quickly led to quite a drinking session for a Sunday night. The other American, who was named Adam, turned out to be quite the worldly character with an array of exciting stories from across the globe. But, one story particularly caught my attention. He told me that years ago when he was touring the DMZ between North and South Korea, there in a little shop he found North Korean beer. I was shocked and excited. Might I as well be able to try the forbidden brew? All I knew is that I needed to find out. I could only imagine Hogan’s reaction if I had to tell him I passed on this beer-related quest. The next day I booked my tour.

I was a little unnerved to discover my pickup was scheduled for 7:00AM knowing in all likelihood I would be at least slightly hung-over, but there was no way I was going to pass on the chance to explore the DMZ and maybe try some of North Korea’s finest. The guide arrives at my hotel; her name is Choi, and it turns out I am the only person on today’s tour, a private tour! Now I really can’t complain. After some general chit chat I decide to ask her the question really on my mind, “Will I be able to purchase North Korean beer on this tour.” Her response, “Can’t say I ever heard of that.” My heart sank, was Adam wrong?

We arrive and after watching a quick introductory film on the DMZ, which oddly gives the impression that the place is something akin to Disney Land, despite the 10 million landmines. We start off touring the 3rd infantry tunnel. This tunnel was secretly dug by the North Koreans to accommodate a potential sneak attack on Seoul, scary when you think about it. Hopefully one day these tensions ease and the tunnel can be used for something more worthwhile like beer running.

Outside the tunnel I notice a small gift shop; I start to wonder. However, as I walk through the door hope fades quickly. I immediately notice all the typical touristy wares: postcards, T-shirts, etc… One unique item was a small paperweight like object featuring a piece of barbed wire from the original DMZ. By this point I was sure even if there ever was North Korean brews sold in the DMZ they were long drank, it was time for me to just enjoy the day…

I called a last minute audible and decided to pickup some water before we left, so I headed over to the small fridge. My eyes lit up like Ponce de Leon discovering the fountain of youth; there it was… the prize, Taedonggang Maekju! I couldn’t believe it, there it sat unassumingly surrounded by bottled water and North Korean Soju. I immediately rejoiced and made the purchase. I didn’t however imbibe the beverage until I reunited with Hogan, so by this time it had become somewhat skunky, but was still rather refreshing; overall we both thought it would be a decent beer. But by this point it wasn’t about the taste it was about the journey.

Here is a great article from Reuters discussing the background of this beer in pretty good detail.