Drinking in Korea: Update from the Blonde Guy.

Editor's note: More from our 'Adjunct Faculty'! The Blonde Guy has recently returned from Korea, and to celebrate his feet replanting on American soil, we present a series of his observations from those Eastern shores. Enjoy!

Hello Happy Hour Nation! 

Well, I guess now we are technically Happy Hour WORLD!  How cool does that sound!?  Last we spoke I left you all in the sleepy town of Daegu with a briefing on the craft scene here in Korea.  Since then we made our way to eight more cities in Korea, I teamed up with a Korean brewery to make a beer, and made we it back to the states!  Now, becausenot all of these cities were very "craft-forward" (and also due to an inconvenient stomach bug), there won't be a comprehensive breakdown on each city.  I will, however, leave yall a list of top bars that were found either by comrades or myself at the end of the post with links to each if you find yourself thirsty in Korea.  Whew, ok with all that being said time to dive into my favorite city we have been to outside of Seoul...  *We hear the king of travel, food, and booze, Anthony Bourdain, starting to narrate...

 

Anthony

    "Busan, South Korea.  The second most populated city in the secluded Korean Peninsula. It boasts a sprawling coastline, an exciting culinary scene, and only recently, craft beer."

    Thanks, Tony. We'll send your check in the mail.**

    In all seriousness, Busan is not only the fifth largest port town in the world but one of the most beautiful cities I've ever visited, and definitely the most beautiful in Korea.  Bridges over the ocean connecting the downtown business center with the beachside restaurants, and a vast array of architecture create a skyline that requires taking an obscene amount of photos. (See obscene amount of photos below)

Only three blocks west of Namcheon Beach lays the headquarters of the aptly named, Galmegi Brewing Company. Galmegi (Korean for "seagull." Get it? Seagulls are on the beach... just like the brewery... ) started in a third story bar space and now is housed in a old surf shop that has been repurposed into a full fledged micro brewery and restaurant.  With 12 of their own, rotating, beers on tap you can bet that anyone from a craft-beer-virgin to a certified Cicerone will find something they enjoy.  Some favorites from my December visit were:

  • Yuja Gose, a deliciously dry and salty Gose brewed with Yuzu to give it a nice citrus snap. 
  • Winter Ale:Winter warmer style with the perfect balance of Ginger and cinnamon, a favorite amongst the cast that was with me as it was the day after Christmas. F
  • Galmegi IIPA and IPA: The Galmegi IPA is one of their best selling beers and honestly one of the most solid IPA's I've had to date.  It sits at a mid-low ABV so you can have a few at the beach and gives you the perfect, balanced, hop-forward flavor profile you want from an IPA.  Now their IIPA... Oooo their IIPA.  When I sat down and chatted with their CEO, Steven Allsopp, he poured a chalice of this sweet elixir for me to try and I almost wept.  I was immediately swept away through clouds made of flowers and citrus on tiny magic carpets made of hops and bubbles before landing softly in a peach orchard.  Seriously folks, I thought he had poured me a Heady Topper or Sip O' Sunshine this beer was so good.  Galmegi IIPA is only brewed a few times a year, so if you find yourself in Busan while it's on tap consider buying a growler or two or ten of this truly masterful execution of the IIPA style.

Galmegi paved the way for craft to take wing in Busan with Gorilla Brewing opening down the block and Akitu Brewing Company headquartering just outside of the metro area opening shortly after Galmegi hit the city's palate. British company, Owl and Pussycat, also opened a bar right on the beach offering a wide array of international and domestic brews and artisan dishes, and a bottle shop of the same nomenclature right across the street from Galmegi's flagship location.  This beach oasis was quickly climbing to the top of my list of favorite cities. 

Another exciting opportunity presented itself while visiting Busan: brewing my very first beer!  I presented the idea of brewing a Jekyll and Hyde themed beer (a la Broadway Brews) to Galmegi CEO, Steven Allsopp, on our first night of meeting and he loved the idea.  Two days later we nailed down a recipe and the day after that I met him at the brewery early in the morning for a full day of brewing!  

    We decided to make a sweet and spicy beer, incorporating the theme of duality from the show, using caramely(is this a word? It is now) German malt, and Korean chilis from a local market.  After transferring everything to the fermentation tank, Steve brought out a huge surprise for me: the magical yeast we would be using to turn our work into beer were the same creatures that are used at Alchemist Brewing to make HEADY TOPPER.  Yes, THE Heady Topper. The perfect micro organisms were pumped into the tank and we left it for two weeks to let them feast on the sugar, and poop out their delicious phenols and esters.  It was distributed throughout Busan and to a couple bars in the many neighborhoods of Seoul and surprisingly well received by the craft community in both cities! So much so that Galmegi almost went through every keg before I could get my hands on it!

    Jekyll and Hyde had a beautiful peach and pepper aroma with a sinister red hue. At first sip you get a malt forward flavor with a hint of the peach and rye.  It then evolves into the "Hyde" profile with a dry Korean gochu (chili pepper) kick at the end.  Not going to lie, this beer is weird (in a good way, like people who like to run for fun... Jimmy) but rolling in at 5.5% ABV this brew is goes down surprisingly easy even with the spicy finish. Topping the list of reasons why this beer is great is that we are donating a dollar from every pint sold at the brewery to a local orphanage in Busan.  Unfortunately Galmegi doesn't have a canning or bottling system yet so there wasn't a way to get it back to the states.

It pained us all to leave this beautiful beach town, but alas, we had to move on with the show. The cities that we traveled through from Busan to our two and a half month sit down in Seoul varied with what they had to offer in the craft beverage department.  I also experienced food poisoning and a back injury that required me to take medicine that prevented me from drinking for about a month all together.  So my beer expertise is not so high on some cities, however I was incredibly lucky to have a craft cohort, Ian Jon Bourg, on this journey who never failed to look into more beer places to check out and is to thank for the lists below.

    Like I said above, we have just now completed the run of the show and returned to the states.  This is a short update so stay tuned for a "Korea in Retrospect" post in the coming weeks after the exciting Broadway Brews news.  Believe me, there is A LOT, to report on from my stay in Seoul. A LOT.

Cheers,

Tim, AKA The Blonde Guy


Daejeon - 

The Ranch Pub - https://m.facebook.com/ranchpubdaejeon/




Gwangju

First Alleyway - http://firstalleyway.com

AfterWorks - https://m.facebook.com/afterworks.brewpub/

Wheat Field Brewing co. - https://m.facebook.com/pages/%EB%B0%80%EB%B0%AD%EC%96%91%EC%A1%B0%EC%9E%A5-Wheat-Field-Brewing-co/1022959184436639

**Anthony Bourdain was not in anyway contacted for this article.  However, if he reads this, please contact us so we can travel, eat, and drink.

The Blonde Guy is drinking in...KOREA!

    안녕, 금발 녀석!

Translation: Hello from The Blonde Guy!  Its been a while since I've seen you all, and my what has happened since!  I can't believe it has been almost two whole months since we landed in this beautiful country and started our journey with the Jekyll and Hyde world tour.  From the moment we got on the plane at JFK it felt like we were in a different world.  Stepford-esque flight attendants, friendly seat-neighbors (shoutout to JT!), good food, and free beer all were an amuse-bouche for the smorgasborg to come.

    While the first brewery post is in the works, I wanted to give a basic overview of what I've observed in the beer scene/culture while in Seoul and Daegu.  

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    The first stop on our tour of Korea was rehearsal for a month in the capital city of Seoul.  One of the world's most technologically advanced cities and home to more than 25 million people(half the population of the entire country) it is certainly the cultural hub for the nation's citizens.  Everyone in the Gangnam-gu district, yes that Gangnam from the popular song, is clad in either business attire or fashion way forward.  No matter what you're wearing, where you work, or what time of night it is, one thing brings everyone together when the sun sets: Beer.  Most of the beer here in Korea is contract brewed by much larger beer companies, (think Macro brewers like Anhueser-Busch, SABC, etc...) These beers are the traditional drink-to-get-drunk light lagers and ales with a an ABV that never exceeds 4.5% and you can buy a liter at a convenience store for the equivalent of $1.75.

    Drinking is as deeply rooted and crucial to South Korean culture as kimchi is.  It is tradition and a way of life.  One that shows no signs of fading away, rather, with the help of the recent craft movement, is growing more and more vibrant.

    Now, the craft movement still being fairly young in the country, I had many friends who had visited or are from Korea state that I would have a difficult time finding real, Korean brewed, beer.  "The Booth Brewing Co." was the first craft bar that some comrades and I visited in the bustling hills of Gangnam-gu. 

From the first beer on the tap list to the last, my worries of having a non-palatable experience here dissolved.  From having a few brews from The Booth itself to collaborations with Evil Twin and the delectable Danish brewers, TO ØL, I knew I was in for a bevy of different brews.  Four of the five beers brewed in part by The Booth were pale ale variants, and the other was a moderately hopped Irish Red Ale.  One look at what the tables around us were drinking and the bottle selection for the evening and it became very clear that the lighter ales and lagers had been traded out for a dryer, more hopped up flavor.  IPA's reigned king in this pub.  For good reason too, after being gifted a free tasting by the manager that evening (thank you generous stranger!), my favorite was their in-house brewed, robustly roasted and mildly malted, Brew Bro Black IPA.  It was the only beverage I went back for seconds of that evening.  

 A lot of flying went into this flight! (see what I did there?)

A lot of flying went into this flight! (see what I did there?)

    The next stop on our galavanting through Gangnam was a place that, little did I know, would become my go-to stop for post rehearsal winding down, Ark Handcraft Beer.  Much smaller and quaint than the multi-floor, Williamsburg-hipster-loft-esque Booth Brewing space, Ark boasted more of a homey vibe.  The first evening there I was greeted by the manager, Bo, who showed incredible generosity by offering me a flight of the six beers they make as a gift and welcomed me to their bar.  Y'all.  Two free flights of incredible beer in a single night, Korea was quickly becoming my favorite place.  Along with all of their own beer the draft and bottle list offered up Brooklyn Lager (A little taste of home) and other European brews from Germany, Austria, and Denmark.  "Hug Me," their white ale, and "Cosmic Dancer" were my absolute favorites.  Ark Handcraft Beer and the people working at the establishment were incredibly generous and hospitable while we were in Seoul. I can't wait to visit their gorgeous facility and get more into the "hoppy-worty" (nitty-gritty replacement? No? Ok.)

    This is truly just a generic overview of the newly-dense beer scene in Seoul.  When we return to Seoul in the spring I will be reporting more on specific breweries in the surrounding areas so stay tuned!  After our time in Seoul it was time to open the show a couple hundred miles southeast in Daegu.


    Almost everyone involved with our production, backstage and onstage, said that there wasn't anything to do in Daegu.  That there wasn't much to do, see, eat, or drink.  I tried to remain positive but however, it became painfully obvious when we got there that there really was not much by the hotel besides restaurants that didn't open until 6pm, a plethora of convenience stores, and oodles of fried chicken and soju. During the day this area was a strange ghost town of motels, casinos, and a slew of Korean BBQ establishments.

    A week into the trip, on the quest for secret Santa gifts, I was in a grocery-mega-store in the middle of nowhere and found the wailing wall of beers.  Brews from the States, very few from Korea, the usual from Europe, and a surprising debut of beers from New Zealand and Australia gave me a feeling, I like to think, of how Taylor Swift felt when she finally got "Out of the Woods."  That was a very good week for this beer nerd.  Two weeks later Jess and I were exploring their brand new department store, Shinsegae, and stumbled upon a craft beer store inside of the Korean equivalent of Best Buy.  Nerd. Gasm.  Surrounded by life-size comic book characters, computers, and video games I scanned the surprisingly excellent selection for any bottle shop let alone one in the middle of an electronics store!

    The true hidden gem of Daegu though is located on the outskirts of the south-eastern part of town, Daegu Bottle Shop.  One of my colleagues had found their business page on Facebook and when I tried to find it on a map it didn't even exist!  I hopped in a cab and told the driver to drop me in the general area. After aimlessly wandering around another deserted area, a friendly Korean store owner calling the shop for me, and getting lost a second time I finally found it.  Opened just a little under a year ago, the facade of this treasure trove looks like a tiny, mom and pop Korean restaurant because, well... it is.  I hesitantly knocked on the door and gesticulated "Beer???" and was led to a tiny room where only two refrigerators stood.  I was admittedly a little bummed at first that I had made this trek only to find two small fridges but what they held in them was pure magic.  Prairie Brewing, Stone, Rogue, Brooklyn, Delirium, good Lord. I felt like I was going to explode! Even though it was all western brewed it made me giddy to find such a haul in such an unassuming place!  After spending far too much money (but really what is the price of love right?) I thanked the man and went on my now merry way.  Even though there really wasn't much in Daegu in terms of sight seeing, it still proved to be a fruitful visit.  Complete with new friends, new brews, and thousands of Korean Jekyll and Hyde fans.

    Even with it's very young history in the country, craft's popularity is growing thanks to foreigners teaching the locals how to make it and the locals being adventurous and passionate about change.  I can't wait to explore more of the history here as well as the exciting present and future of craft brewing and all of the incredible people involved.  Till next time...

 

Cheers,

 

Tim (The Blonde Guy)

    

Introducing the Blonde Guy, with a Craft Alabama update!

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Introducing: A new Guy! Jimmy met Tim Heller while working up in Colorado a few summers ago, and Tim's Craft fandom, smarts, and devotion to good writing make a perfect match for The Happy Hour Guys. Welcome Tim to our 'adjunct faculty' - he and his wife will be on tour in KOREA for the next six months, reporting on Craft from overseas - very exciting, and we look forward to that.

Here's his inaugural piece - something he wrote for us while working in Alabama recently: 

Ok friends, here we go. T'was late April in the year 2016 when I received an email that offered me the role of Prince Eric in Disney's "The Little Mermaid" at Red Mountain Theatre Company in the lovely Birmingham, AL. I was filled with joy and did what any other person would do when they get an exciting new job: look up every brewery in the greater Birmingham area! I poured over all of the beer menus (pun intended), mapped out the journey, and after we had finished blocking and setting the show, set out on my hop safari determined to find the best brewery in the city.

I started with the first craft brewery in the city, Good People Brewing Co., because it was the closest to where we rehearsed in the heart of B'Ham. The following week I hit the other three, Cahaba Brewing, Trimtab, and Avondale. While all breweries were surprisingly stellar with the quality and variety of their brews, one stood out among the group as the true king of beer in the city and really the state.

Good People Brewing Company, founded in 2008, really seemed to capture the spirit of the city and the journey craft beer has made in Alabama. Near the end of my stay I had the privilege to have a "sit and sip" Q&A with co-founder and brewmaster, Jason Malone.

When one pulls up to their gorgeous taproom/brewhouse it is hard not to immediately feel comfortable. They have a large patio with tables and chairs that fill up on every night of the week, an outdoor stage for local musicians to come serenade the townsfolk, and vast high ceilings with couches and industrial decor for those who prefer the A/C on hot southern days. The beertenders here always were smiling, happy to fill a growler or give a small taste of a few brews if you weren't sure of what you wanted; it truly feels like you are being welcomed into someone's hoppy home.

Jason greeted me clad in his cargo shorts, flip flops, and what every male brewmaster needs... a giant beard. A firm hand shake and a couple pours later he was telling me all there was to know about his baby.

He and his business partner, Michael Sellers, first started homebrewing in the early 2000s, when homebrewing was yet to be legalized in Alabama. He explained that Alabama was actually the second to last state in the country to legalize homebrewing and that, thanks to a grassroots movement called "Free the Hops", Alabama finally legalized homebrewing and raised the legal ABV in the state from 6% to 13.9% in 2008 (thus their slogan "Legally Brewed Since 2008").

** Editor's note: We covered this back as it was happening: Click here to see! Thanks!  - J

The two Auburn alums went from brewing in their homes and selling out kegs at tailgates for football games to realizing this could be an actual business for them. Jason and Michael left their jobs in software sales and banking respectively and set out to be contract brewers, to allow them to make larger batches.

But when their contracted brewery burned down they were left no place to brew. After a back and forth battle with Federal, State, and local governments they finally landed a killer deal on some old, abandoned equipment they had seen in the window of a fallen hop house, and on July 4th, 2008, Good People Brewing was born.

Now you may be thinking, "2008? That was the middle of the recession. How could you possibly sustain opening a new business at that time?" When posed with this question Jason smiled and replied that there were two key things that kept them alive during that period: 1) Everyone will always want to drink beer, no matter the economy, and 2) There wasn't anyone else in the state who was doing what they were doing in their brewery.

The same is true 8 years later. They have their staple brews such as their IPA, Brown Ale, Bearded Lady Wheat Ale, and American Pale Ale, that really established them as the first craft brewery in the state and they also have their seasonal brews like Mumbai Rye IPA, and Fatso Russian Imperial Stout. If you're into special releases (c'mon who isn't) they have a "Bearded Reserve" program that has yielded the coveted "El Gordo" Imperial Stout.

You seriously can't go wrong with any of the above beers in their repertoire but what FOR REALSIES blew my socks off were two specific brews. First, a disclaimer: I am an equal opportunity beer consumer. No matter where it is brewed, what it's brewed with, or the style of brew, I will try it twice before making a decision on it. That being said, I am not enthused with how many double, triple, and even quadruple IPA's are being churned out of breweries lately. With THAT being said, Jason Malone's "Snake Handler IIPA" is, hands down, the BEST IIPA I have ever tried and I have sampled a great many. This beer sits at a dangerously crushable 10% ABV, with a mouthfeel that feels like your tongue is being wrapped in the embrace of a long lost lover. Easily the most talked about brew in the city, this was one of two beers that I went back again and again to purchase.

The next beer that reduced me to a puddle was such a treat that, at the time it had yet to be released. I had mentioned that my favorite style of beer was Farmhouse Sours and Jason jumped up and said, "I'll be right back" and brought back a glass of one of the prettiest beers I've set my eyes upon. Now dubbed "Funk Farm" the sour blond ale, aged in french oak for 8 months with blackberries and raspberries with souring bacteria and additional yeast strains made me weak at knees. Jason and his team nailed what makes a good sour great, the "Funk." Not only was the beer sour from the bacteria with a light fruit note, but it had that farmhouse taste to it. Weighing in at a light 4.5% ABV at the time we consumed it it was a perfect summer brew to enjoy now and save one to age for later.

Obviously I could go on and on about my incredibly hospitable experience with Jason and his team in Birmingham. They have so many exciting things that are on the horizon, their new sour series, a year old barrel program that any brew master would envy, and of course continuing to water the southeast with their hoppy nectars.

When asked what was next for Good People, Jason put it simply.

"If you would've asked me that five years ago, I would have said I want to put the beer in every SEC football stadium. But right now I just really want to make really good beer. I'd rather make really good beer for a 5 states than make ok beer for 24."

Good people, making great beer, at Good People Brewing Company.

A huge thanks to Jason, Michael, and Brian-the-bartender for an incredible visit and stories.

Until next time, Tim (the Blonde Guy)