The craft beer scene in Korea is growing fast. Ten years ago, there weren’t many options outside of the mass-produced domestic beers, and even in the four years that I’ve lived here I’ve witnessed massive growth. I’m not here to shit on Cass or Hite; they serve their purpose. But as an enthusiastic beer-lover, I’d like to share several worthy breweries, taprooms, and pubs that are worth your time. I won’t link (Korean businesses seem to be allergic to websites), but all of the places are easy to search on Instagram or Facebook.
Outside of Seoul
Wild Wave Brewing Company is located in the southern coastal city of Busan. The last time I visited, there were about 10-15 beers on tap, including several sours. If you love sours and saisons, this is a good bet because the brewers seem passionate about the style and also do a lot of barrel-aging. Their beers are also available in taprooms throughout the country, and you can buy their signature beer, Surleim, in bottleshops everywhere.
Another Busan brewery is Gorilla. The taproom is massive and they serve pizzas and other pub food. They have a wide variety of brews, a few of which are available in taprooms around the country. They release new styles frequently and they also sometimes collaborate with other brewers.
Budnamu is located in a town called Gangneung on the east coast. Their taproom is a gorgeous, almost traditional-style complex of buildings. They don’t do a lot of specialty beers and usually just keep to their five or six core beers, but there’s something for everyone: a stout, a pale ale, a saison, a wheat beer, etc. Occasionally, you will find their beers in places around Seoul and they’re a fixture at beer festivals during spring and fall.
Fundamental Brewing Co. is an up-and-coming brewery located in Suwon. The taproom is a little tricky to get to via public transportation, but it’s well worth the trip. The building, nestled into the trees, has a sleek and modern warehouse aesthetic. The company is relatively new, so they are still building up their beer selection, but they are releasing new beers every month or so. All of the brews I’ve tried there have been solid, and the food is EXCELLENT. The bar also keeps a few other local beers on draft, if you want to try non-Fundamental brews. Their beers can sometimes be found at pubs in Seoul.
Chillhops Brewing Co. is in Seosan, and I’ve never actually visited. But I’ve tried several of their beers at festivals and brewpubs around Seoul and never been disappointed by the quality. Chillhops is pretty hot these days and I’ve heard that when they open the taproom on the weekends, people line up to get in. Based on what I’ve tasted, I can understand why. As the name would suggest, they specialize in using different kinds of hops. I’m not into super hoppy beers, but I appreciated some of their IPAs that used nelson sauvin.
The Hand and Malt isn’t technically craft anymore, as they were recently purchased by AB InBev, but they’re still making interesting beers. They started out doing more Belgian-style brews and they even have a few different types of cider. I’ve never been to their physical location, but most local bars have at least one Hand and Malt beer on tap and almost any bottle shop will sell cans.
Seoul Brewery is also relatively new (they opened the end of 2017) but they make quality beers. Don’t let the generic name fool you; their beers are quite playful and the Hapjeong location has a fantastic back porch made for summertime sipping. Seoul Brewery has a second location in Hannam.
Magpie Brewing Co. originated on Jeju island (which is where the brewing facilities are located) but they also have a taproom in Itaewon where most of the year-round and seasonal varieties are available. I particularly like Magpie for their art design; they have wildly inventive and beautiful posters that accompany the release of each new beer. You can purchase the posters for yourself on-site. The beer is no slouch, either. I always look forward to whatever new, experimental styles they come up with.
Mysterlee Brewing Company in Gongdeok is one of my favorite places to go because they release new beers frequently, and they have a great chef who always creates new menu items. The food is delicious and the beers are interesting. The brewers are always experimenting with flavors and pushing themselves to fine tune recipes. The taproom is a handsome industrial space with ample natural light. If there’s a beer you want to take home with you, they will can-on-demand.
Pongdang Craft Beer Company (located in Sinsa) is mostly a pub, but they do have a few original beers on tap, usually standard stuff like pilsner or pale ale. I like it because they curate their taplist and bottle selection very carefully and often will host exclusive tap takeovers from international breweries. It’s also the place to go if you want to try really heady stuff like Cascade, which is hard to find elsewhere in Korea. Pongdang has another location, Sour Pongdang in Noksapyeong, which specializes in sours/saisons/farmhouse ales. There aren’t many sour specialty bars in Korea, so this is a rare gem.
Another one of my favorite places is Seoul Gypsy because it has the perfect mix of great beer, great food, and great atmosphere. The taproom is inside a renovated hanok facing the outer wall of Changdeokgung Palace, so it has a hip, funky vibe mixed with traditional quaintness. Space is limited, which means that beers are made offsite and in small batches. There are usually one or two Seoul Gypsy originals on draft and the other taps are a mix of local offerings and special imports. The beers they make are excellent, good enough to make up for the fact that they don’t brew a large selection.
Won Nation Brewing started its life as a pub called Craft Studio, but the owners recently started their own brewing company and rebranded as Won Nation. Prior to establishing the the current incarnation, the brewer collaborated with Chillhops on a couple of beers that were well-recieved. Full disclosure, I am friends with the owners! It’s a cozy little spot in Hapjeong, the owners are warm and sociable, and the pizza is killer. Two months ago they released the first beer as a standalone operation and I’m excited to see what they come up with next. They keep a nice variety of other beers on tap as well as some bottles (local and imported) and Mike is very knowledgeable and good for a recommendation.
Calikitchen, or California Kitchen and Craft Pub doesn’t brew, but it’s still a great place to drink craft beer. The atmosphere is casual and the food is great. Tacos are their specialty, but don’t sleep on the burrito bowls, either. The owner Chuck is a personable guy who is enthusiastic about beer and curates the taplist carefully. I got turned onto Hardywood beers here because Chuck was pushing for more distribution in Korea (it seems to have worked). Calikitchen often holds special tasting events and collaborates frequently with other local businesses.
Beervana is a really fantastic space in the ultra-hip neighborhood of Mullae. It occupies an entire building in the heart of an old industrial area, complete with seating on the rooftop. The interior decor and artwork is quirky and colorful, lots of hippie vibes. I’m not sure if they’ve released their own beers yet, as they’ve only recently started brewing. But in the meantime, they have a nice selection of about 8-10 beers on tap.
Stan Seoul used to be hard to find. You could walk right past the building and not see the tiny sign taped onto the double doors. Fortunately, the signage has improved a little bit, but this place is worth finding even if you have to go a little off the beaten path. Stan Seoul often features imported craft beers that are hard to find anywhere else in Korea, in addition to a few domestic craft beers. The decor is minimalist but the atmosphere is friendly. The food menu is creative and delicious.
If Belgian beer is your thing, check out Nuba. It’s the place to go for all your dubbels, quadruppels, strong ales, and trappist beers.
Seoul Beer Project has kind of an interesting concept. They focus strictly on importing beers that are not otherwise distributed in Korea, but they only feature one or two breweries at a time. The first time I went, they sold cans and draft from two different breweries in New York. The selection was pretty big — maybe 6-8 beers from each brewery. And the second time, I went, they had beers from London. They rotate the stock pretty regularly. so you have to keep up with them on Instagram to find out what’s new.
Bori Maru is a pub and bottle shop in one, which is very convenient. You can enjoy a nice selection of beers on draft and then browse the shop for take-out beers on the way out. Sometimes they’re the best deal in town.
Craftbros is another great place that has a taproom and a bottle shop on the premises. They even brew several beers of their own, including Gangnam Pale Ale, which is bottled and pretty easy to find in shops around Seoul.
I only went to Craftroo one time, but I was absolutely enchanted by the architecture, which incorporates a modern structure into an old hanok. Go for the atmosphere, stay for the beer. They recently started brewing under the name Craftroot, so you can check out their signature beers, too.
All the rest
The places listed above are just some of my favorites that I’ve tried. There are so many other significant breweries and pubs in Korea that I didn’t have time to talk about in this blog post. There are also a lot that I’ve never tried, or tried so long ago that I can’t remember my impressions. Here’s a long, but probably incomplete list :
The Satellite, Euljiro Brewing, Levee, White Crow, Goodman, Vaneheim, The Table, September (Goowoldang), Ark Beer, Galmegi, The Booth, The Playground, Amazing, Andong Brewing, Hidden Track, Breitbach Brau, Jeju Beer Company, Praha 993, The Ranch, Brewery 304, Caligari, Platinum, Ggeek Beer, Kabrew, Whasoo, Kramerlee, Artmonster, Ambition