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The Economist: South Korean beer? Boring

The Economist makes a complaint often heard: The food in South Korea is great, but the beer is well, you know, just…boring.

Adding insult to hangover, it says North Korean beer is better.

Some South Korean beers skimp on barley malt, using the likes of rice in its place. Others are full of corn. And despite the recent creation of Hite Dry Finish—a step in the right direction—brewing remains just about the only useful activity at which North Korea beats the South. The North’s Taedonggang Beer, made with equipment imported from Britain, tastes surprisingly good.

An editorial in Dong-a Ilbo says that Korean brewers aren’t taking the rice and corn accusations so well, and are claiming that The Economist is full of it.

South Korean beer companies denied the allegations, with one saying, “Most (South) Korean beers contain more than 70 percent malt, and some including Hite Max of Hite and OB Golden Lager of OB contain 100 percent malt. Rice and corn are not cheaper than malt, and these grains are used in the mixture to generate a mild taste.”

The Ilbo also adds that the locally brewed version of Hoegaarden (mediocre) shows that the South is on the cutting edge of beer technology. And besides, Korean brewers claim, the domestic market likes its beer boring.

Other than Belgium, Hoegaarden is produced in South Korea and Russia only, which demonstrates how advanced South Korea’s beer production technology is. Hite and OB Brewery say differences in flavor between imported and Korean beers are due to consumer preference.

They are drafting a letter of complaint (perhaps to be sent in a bottle) to The Economist.

About the author: Founder/CEO of Meme Communications Korea – www.memecommunications.com

  • http://www.chrisinsouthkorea.com chrisinsouthkorea

    So what they’re is saying is “we make lagers. Koreans like lagers, because they’ve never had the chance to try anything else. Who drinks those other kinds of beer anyway?” OR “We’re giving the customer exactly what they want, because they haven’t thought to ask for anything better. It’s not our job to innovate.”

    With that said, the mainstream has yet to realize there’s much else out there. I think it’s high time for some blind taste tests. Tell people they’ll try five beers (!!) and to rank them in order of preference. Cass, Max, Heineken, a Magpie Porter, and maybe even a locally brewed IPA in there.

  • slim

    I love and miss Korean food, but even accounting for the British palate of the author, I can’t agree with his opening line: “Their cuisine is one of the world’s most exciting.”

  • CactusMcHarris

    OB beer was fine in the day, especially if you had a scrap of heated ojingo to accompany it with, but I would have thought the ROK would have had something as good as (Q, don’t convulse) Sapporo by now.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    The people at The Economist have to be mindful of the food and beer pairings. The flavors of Korean food, for better or for worse, sock you in the mouth, thus the beers tend to be light and watery. This is logical. I would never drink a stout, for example, with standard Korean fare.

    I said this a lonnnnngggg time ago (2007):

    “Another example is Korean alcohol. It’s also bland. Koreans tend not to drink flavored cocktail beverages, but lean more on tasteless light vodka called “soju” and watery beers that Westerners say lacks a beer like taste. Koreans favor this type of alcohol because it goes well with their bar food, otherwise known as “anju” which also leans on the spicy, sweet and tart side. In other words, Anju would taste good with Hite or Cass branded beer (Korean brands), but would taste kinda weird with Guinness or Newcastle. “

    When Koreans start eating more Western fare more often, and pairing it with beers, then you will see more flavorful Korean beers.

  • slim

    Pairing advice is fine, but The Economist, true to its mission, was mainly focusing on the oligopolistic structure and laws and trade barriers that conspire to make good Korean beer nearly impossible. Japan had a similar structure, but with better beers like Sapporo and Ebisu, until the mid-1990s.

    I suppose we can say that OB and Hite and Cass offer a relatively flavorless medium if you must dump an 18-year-old Scotch in a glass of beer.

  • Benjamin Wagner

    Dear Micro-brewers in Korea,

    Get your product placed in drama and you’ll be selling it like “blue lemonade”.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    OB is American owned:

    http://www.thedeal.com/magazine/ID/033560/deals-of-the-year-2009/kkr-toasts-oriental-brewery.php

    Prior to that it was owned by Anheuser Busch (until 1998). Before Anheuser Busch, Doosan owned it.

    It was among one of the largest LBOs in 2009. 8.5x EBITDA valuation is not bad considering that the industry average is 10.5x.

  • CactusMcHarris

    WK,

    I last had it then when it was SK-owned, one would hope when it was at its tastiest (and then, too, the choices were simple – Crown or OB, and none of this light-beer shite to have to order through).

  • Cloud

    I’m seriously suspicious of the beer here. I once took a sip of an opened OB beer left overnight and it had turned into vinegar! The only non-Korean beers available at the local convenience stores are Bud and Hoegaarden, both made here. Soju and beer makers in Korea have a monopoly that must involves government bribes. It makes me angry that I can’t enjoy an affordable/easily available glass of red wine or bottle of Newcastle. I mean what kind of developed country consumes grain alcohol(moonshine) as their national beverage? Not even the homeless alcoholics in the States would choose soju!

  • Cloud

    @6 – there’s a law in Korea that prohibits microbrewers from selling their product anywhere but their own establishment. According to wiki this law was relaxed in June 2011. I’d like to know to what extent.

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    Last June, Robert Koehler had an article on beer in Korea that estimated 17,000 homebrewers in Korea. I suspect there’s a market out there for better-tasting beers, and I expect a rapid development of microbreweries to meet demand, much as there has been with coffee shops.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • http://www.zenkimchi.com/FoodJournal ZenKimchi

    The majority of the netizens translated in the Korea Bang post agree with The Economist article.

    http://www.koreabang.com/2012/stories/north-korean-beer-better-than-the-south-netizens-not-surprised.html

  • http://bcarr.com Brendon Carr

    Anheuser-Busch never owned OB. Belgian brewery conglomerate InBev bought OB, then bought A-B and added the name to InBev.

  • http://adamsawry.wordpress.com Adams-awry

    WTF, Hodges?!!! No puns or mediocre-to-shit wordplay??! No “OB tastes like pee”? or “Don’t drink Hite, it’s shite”? “Cass’ll give ya gas”? “Max is fucking terrible”? What’s gotten into you?!?

  • Angusmack

    The Dong-ah editors should at least get their facts straight before criticizing the Economist, or, better yet, refrain from speaking about something which they clearly know nothing of. 1) Bitter is an ale and it is neither a stout or black lager as they seem to suggest, 2) specialty malts are not “fried” (sprouts!), they are roasted / baked in a kiln, 3) “Europeans prefer ale”?, Really? That’ll be a surprise to the millions of Germans and Czechs quaffing their pils tonight.

    And as for the mass produced product here….it’s simply God awful. Most likely from the malts they use. An American brewmaster who set up one of the first brew pubs in the country told me that regulations at the time (10 years ago) required the use of 50% Korean produced malt in the mash. But it was of such poor quality that they just resold it to a dairy operation and used all imported malts. Cost of doing business here I guess. Not sure if this is still true but it might go some way in explaining the state of Hite, Cass and O.B. That said, just finished a six pack of locally produced I.P.A., drinkable and light years ahead of the major players.

  • dinkus maximus

    The “coffee revolution” came a few years after the IMF. The “sandwich revolution” is still going on I think. Quizno’s was just the beginning. Could it be that a “beerevolution” is coming??? Hoengseong Lager? Busan Brewery? Cheju Orange Ale? Dangun Black?? HBC Panty Remover? So many possibilities.

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/ jefferyhodges

    Adams-awry, I seem to have gotten your goat — inadvertently, I assure you. As for your implied question, the answer is yes, I do have a serious side, but the MH is usually not conducive to earnest dialogue. Besides, you’re punning enough without my help — must be your father’s influence.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • brier

    Heo Seung-ho sure got hurt reading the Economist Article. And as expected, the furious (Heo’s words) local big brewer beer lobby are writing letters, stomping their feet, pulling their hair like petulant children rather than improving quality. A pint of Taedonggang, please.

  • hamel

    B.O., Shite and Ass beers – yech.

    Cloud (#9)

    I mean what kind of developed country consumes grain alcohol(moonshine) as their national beverage?

    Mate, I agree with your complaint about enjoying some reasonably priced red wine or Newcastle (etc), but there’s nothing wrong with grain alcohol per se. Have you tried some of the good makgeolli (막걸리) coming out these days? I don’t mean the cheaper, mass produced stuff. I mean the stuff you can get at Hyundai Department Store that is priced above, 2,000 won a bottle, and doesn’t contain preservatives or aspartame, so you have to drink it within a fortnight. Man, that stuff’s powerfully good!

  • http://www.chinasmack.com/tag/shocking Jakgani

    Korean beer sucks big time.

    but the whole Economist article just sounds like a big advertisement for the Canadian, Dan Vroon.

  • Jed

    #4
    Does fried chicken count as Western fare? When eating Korean food, soju is the alcohol of choice,the beer seems to be mostly drunk at hofs

  • http://www.expathell.com thankswww

    I think the local demand is for something bland, and that demand is being met faithfully. Remember, people are still actually drinking soju, and pretending that it’s something other than industrial cleaning solvent. It’s the liquor store equivalent of huffing paint thinner. The demand for variation will largely be with younger, more educated, worldly Koreans who are tired of Chaebol trickery and celebrity marketing scams.

    Cars are the same way. If you look around you, most people are very happy to buy black/white/silver. They don’t need red, blue, green, pink, yellow etc. The rest of the world likes the availability of these variations, but the Koreans don’t. However, we are now seeing a very small sub-culture of Koreans who are buying yellow or red Hyundai Velostars, and the occasional ajeossi driving a champagne colored Lexus or something.

    Slowly, these social risk takers will multiply, and will demand something other than the status quo. Until this happens on a larger scale, the local beer will continue to be mediocre.

    Koreans will slowly push aside mediocrity and demand better things. They’ll stop paying for Chaebol built, expensively priced but cheaply built slap-and-dash apartments, with ceilings that warp, and windows that leak, and they’ll start moving out into the suburbs and building their own houses using better quality techniques, in a variety of different styles.

    Eventually whole businesses could open with the sole goal of UNDOING mediocrity and homogeneity in Korea. Re-modeling boring soviet style apartments and villas, re-painting cars in vibrant colors, and doing away with the whole “It’s prestige because we say it is” marketing joke, and instead using creative commercials that don’t rely on celebrities pushing garbage plastic junk products that are overpriced.

    The only question is what will happen first; a bunch of small changes bit by bit, or a large cultural change that branches off into a bunch of positive minor changes in a whole bunch of different sectors (beer hopefully being one of them).

  • Cloud

    @19 – I guess most alcohol is made from grain but I was specifically referring to soju. Back in high school I once tasted what they called “grain alcohol” at a bonfire in the woods and soju reminds me of that. I do enjoy the makeolli they serve at restaurants and dongdongju. I will look into ordering some online as I don’t have a car.

    If only a Trader Joe’s would open up in my neighborhood…

  • judge judy

    it’s crap. i’ll always take asahi over hite, OB, etc. there’s no comparison on level of quality and taste.

  • Arghaeri

    The Ilbo also adds that the locally brewed version of Hoegaarden (mediocre) shows that the South is on the cutting edge of beer technology

    Hey look, we’re on the cutting edge of technology we can copy belgium beer :roll:

  • hamel

    #22

    Remember, people are still actually drinking soju, and pretending that it’s something other than industrial cleaning solvent.

    I don’t like soju, but it’s heaven in a bottle compared to the Chinese stuff 고량주/高粱酒/Kaoliang jiu. Ever try that stuff? I once bought a bottle of it just *for the bottle* and poured the contents down my drain. The drain didn’t clog for a year after that…

  • Awarren

    Wangkon,

    Please don’t think I am picking on you – I point out what you say sometimes because I think you can be reasoned with, and therefore have reasonable things to say sometimes. But are you really defending Korean beer? For whom are you defending it? Many, many Koreans know it is vastly inferior to most all other beers in the world – even from Asian countries.

    And the Korean food is spicy defense just does not work. Koreans drink mostly drink soju with such food. The only Koreans you will encounter nowadays who might prefer Korean beers over foreign beers, regardless of what they are eating, would be younger women who like cocktails and never can drink more than one Cafri at a seating anyway, or the other Koreans who simply must accept Korean beer or admit that they can’t afford to spend 2-3 times more for the foreign variety.

  • keith

    Korean beer is pretty crap. But the selection of imported beer has really come a long way recently. Homeplus especially are doing relatively well in the beer department, but of course they’re not in the same league as Tesco proper or even better a proper bottle shop. The beer situation is similar to the food situation, there isn’t a great deal of variety in general and the quality is frequently sketchy. If you want good stuff and can even find it you pay a large premium.

    Part of the reason domestic Korean beer is poor (only an idiot would say it’s good) is down to the monopoly that the big breweries enjoy. There is no real competition, there is also no real beer culture in Korea, and imports are often expensive. Anyone who thinks soju is a quality beverage needs their head examined.

    OB isn’t that bad, but it is very boring, and only a slight improvement on Budweiser!

  • http://www.busanhaps.com Bobby McGill

    Hamel, totally agree on the makoli. One of the finest forms of alcohol.

    Also, I am pleased (or troubled) to report that when searching “makoli” on Google image search, I am the third result just before Macaulay Culkin. How’s that for nation branding?

  • Q

    I had liked Asahi and Saporo better than Korean soju or beer until the March, 2011. I literally stopped buying Japanese food products since then (Many suspicious food products are imported to Korea. I’m afraid they could be sold real cheap for the source of processed food such as Ramyun). Anyway, you would see where the brewery is located:

    http://www.asahibeer.co.jp/brewery/fukushima/tour.html

    Now I’m more leaning toward German black beer and Irish stout. For Korean brand, I like plum wine 매취순. Most of all, I love wine my mother brewed at home. As for 고량주, it’s very strong alcohol of Chinese origin that Koreans usually drink at 중국집. I a couple of times drank it when I went out for mountain climbing at very cold winter. I heard Chinese red army drank the alcohol during Korean war to fight off cold winter.

  • feld_dog

    @Q:
    Asahi has many breweries around Japan. I visited the one in Fukuoka.

  • platethief

    Korean beer is just downright offensive, Hite being the biggest offender. I remember my first sip of the stuff and have never tasted anything as bad since.

    That said, around this time last year, I visited several self-serve bars in Korea with fridges full of bottles of foreign beer (including Asian, Europan and American) at a reasonable price. You simply took your empties to the till when you were done for the night. The places were always full. It seemed like the beginning of a much needed revolution, and I hope it continues.

  • platethief

    Q,

    Perhaps you should double-up and down your Asahi with some Korean noodles:

    http://www.interaksyon.com/article/46685/toxics-watchdog-finds-cancer-causing-korean-instant-noodles-in-korean-stores

  • broona

    This Swiss exchange student I knew always drank Budweiser. I always thought it was weird, since I assumed he was used to really good beer back in Europe. But apparently, Budweiser is actually pretty good. Not being a beer drinker, I wouldn’t know.

  • Wedge

    Korea, as always, will follow Japan’s path about 10-15 years later. In Japan in the 90s, you had hundreds of sake breweries add beer to their repertoire and they were shite. No passion for brewing, just a bandwagon to jump on. Take that mess and throw in some good old fashioned Schumpeterian creative destruction and they now have several excellent breweries that make top-notch suds that would do well with American craft beer drinkers. They also have some excellent taphouses at which to quaff these suds along with some great imports.

    In Korea in the late Nineties and early Zeroes, you had numerous brewpubs offering one-dimensional German-type fare that wasn’t even done well, especially after the original brewers went home. I don’t even know if most of those places exist any more since I stopped going to them six years ago.

    Korea is a bit behind but with a growing homebrew scene, overseas travel among the youngsters and the tip of an iceberg in available imports, coupled with nascent contract brewers like Magpie and Craftworks and establishments like Reilly’s Taphouse, the ingredients for a beer renaissance are in place. The question is not “if,” but “when.”

  • Wedge

    That DongA editorial is pretty funny at times, but props to the guy for his final comment: “The Economist report includes many pieces of misguided information [it does include some, but so does the editorial], but the debate it incited will hopefully lead to richer-tasting beer made in South Korea.”

  • jdog2050

    Hey there,

    I’ve been homebrewing for more than 4 years:

    Personally I found the article kind of lazy. I mean, ya know, good on them for mentioning all this stuff, but it’s really been done before. Maybe I’m jaded, but there’s been a ton of articles that already say the exact same thing.

    And not only that, but this is like the Nth article that interviews Dan and Park Chul. Could we please have some interviews that contrast what Dan is saying to some company execs, tax office officials, FTA people, etc? That’d be vastly more interesting…thanks. That said, the more articles like this, the better, it’s just that they’re all getting really repetitive.

    Anyway, I found that Donga Ilbo response article hilarious. Massive mistakes aside, the beer execs are talking out of their asses.

    1. Hoegaarden is not hard to make…at all. And I’d suspect that the reason their only factories outside Belgium are in Korea and Russia are more for transportation concerns than anything. There is NO complicated technique for making a belgian wit. As a matter of fact, because it’s an ale, it should be easier to make than lager.

    2. I feel like the beer execs were using language games to claim that there’s “more than 70%” malt in their beer. First of all, rice and corn can be malted, ya know? Not only that, but rice and corn pretty much automatically thin your beer’s body. Then, there’s this 70% number. I’d really like to see a breakdown of this. What’s the rest? Corn Syrup? I wouldn’t be surprised.

    3. Saying that Cass and Hite taste the way they do because Koreans “just like them” to me is just sad. It shows the absolute arrogance and laziness of the Chaebols. Not only that, but the awful beer laws here have basically allowed them to perpetuate this claim. Koreans prefer Cass and Hite because they’re the only beers that don’t cost a fortune because Cass and Hite have been rigging the tax laws. To say something like that really just spits in the faces of their customers.

  • feld_dog

    I think probably the “70% malt” comment means the wort is 70% barely malt, and the rest adjuncts like rice and corn. Actually using some amount of adjuncts isn’t automatically bad. Most of the big Japanese brands do so, and they are much better than the Korean lagers, even the “100% malt” Hite MAX. The big problem, in my mind, is that K-beers are so lightly hopped, in addition to being thin-bodied.
    I’m not sure I agree with the comment that Japanese beers were crap in the 90s. I’m not an expert, but I believe the Japanese got their brewing chops from the Germans in the 30s and 40s, and we all know that the Japanese are very very good at copying stuff. I remember drinking Japanese beers at various sushi restaurants in America in the 80s and 90s, and they were pretty decent then, too.
    But I agree that everything is in place for a beer explosion in Korea, if only the politicians and big brewers will realize that letting small brewers into the marketplace will grow the pie for EVERYBODY.

  • slim

    Both Wedge and feld_dog and jdog are on the money on various points here.

    I was a homebrewer in Japan from 1993-97 and rubbed shoulders with aspiring brewmasters, foreign and Japanese. Wedge is correct that the first generation of Japanese MICRO-brews were largely me-too affairs and mostly by the Westernized sons of sake brewers. Their product was unremarkable at best and pricey — even for Japan. I don’t think Wedge was referring to the Japanese beers feld_dog is talking about. Sapporo, Ebisu, Kirin and some Asahi beers are quite good for mass commercial beers — well-learned from the Germans and with the attention to details and craft Japan is known for. My last visit to Japan (3/11 for tsunami work) left me impressed that a nice range of microbrews have gotten a national foothold and there are great regional brews as well.

    Korea will get there, but it takes major change, not only in consumer taste but in tax laws and in a bureaucratic culture that (like Japan) supports oligopoly and extreme agricultural protectionism and frowns on entrepreneurship.

  • slim

    I must add that Wedge and I know each other in real life through the good offices of the “Beer Ambassador” and founding brewmaster of the (defunct I understand) Platinum microbrewery in Apkujong, the estimable Phil Kelm. Phil’s stories from the mash tun frontlines in Korea would enlighten all here who care.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    @ B.Carr in # 13,

    Good point. Thanks for the fact checking.

  • MrMao

    What Dan is doing is a good thing, but it’s a bit rich to base an article off of a brief interview with him and one with Chul (his supplier!)- without acknowledging this fact- and say that this is representative of the whole country. However, Craftworks just might be the most innovative pub in the whole country in terms of developing unpasteurized ales that people like (is there something better in…Cheonan? Guri-shi?), so maybe Dan does deserve an ad in the Economist masquerading as journalism. (Dan has partners, by the way. Calling him ‘the owner’ is a bit off.)

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Well, I’ve been eating Korean food all my life and I believe my palate is use to Korean food in ways that many expatriates may not be and I have to say that I don’t like eating most Korean foods (especially spicy food) with flavorful beer.

    If I have spicy Korean chicken wings or ojingo bokum, nakji bokkeum or dubu kimchi (various types of popular anju) I wouldn’t want to down it with New Castle or Heineken. It would make my meal taste weird. I think a lot of people who have lived on the southern portion of the peninsula all their lives eating that kind of food or similar kind of food would agree to one degree or another. When eating food that is popularly paired with drinking here in the states I notice most Korean Americans either eat it with Hite, Cass or (gasp!) Coors Light. Why? Exactly for the same reasons as I mentioned above. Coors Light has to be the American beer most similar, in taste, to Korean beers and it’s pretty popular with Koreans in the U.S. Again, it’s a matter of taste and I don’t think one should be criticized just because they have different tastes.

    Korean beer companies don’t market or make products to suit foreigners because the market is too small. They want to make money and stay in business, right? They have to make products to suit the Korean palate. I don’t want Cass if I’m gonna eat braut with sour kraut. I don’t want Hite if I’m gonna eat a burger with fries. But I do want either if I’m going to eat double fried spicy Korean chicken wings.

    Now, on the international stage, do Korean beers suck to most beer connoisseurs? Absolutely. I’m not gonna deny that at all. They suck just like Coors Light sucks. But again, is it right to criticize just because a certain group of people have different tastes? Korea is occupied by 49 some odd million Koreans that occupy its southern half and not, for better or for worse, the one million some odd non-Koreans, most of whom won’t live in Korea permanently. Thus, their products don’t necessarily need to meet with your approval. (Note: modes of human behavior are universal, thus what I’m saying is not related to that.) What I think you guys say about Korean beers just sounds like to me more akin to saying that Korea doesn’t offer a lot of XX large sizes (men) or a lot of pants sizes over 12 (women). A lot of Koreans are not those sizes and expats those sizes are just too small a population for manufacturers to bother. Deal with it.

    Korean beers, over time, will likely improve, but only if the drinking culture and drinking food pairings change/improve. In other words, if you want Korean beers to become more Western, the Korean diet needs to become more Western, and that is, to various degrees, what’s happening any ways. However, don’t expect them to change just because you have different standards in taste.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Also…

    I call bull sh*t on the allegations that Koreans use more corn and/or rice in their beers instead of malting barley because it’s cheaper.

    Commodity prices per metric ton since October 2012:

    - Malting Barley: $245.12
    - Rice: $584.74
    - Corn: $321.63

    From http://www.indexmundi.com.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Saying (or implying) that rice and corn is cheaper than malt barley isn’t the kind of mistake one would expect from a publication called The Economist.

    Besides, what gives beers a stronger flavor are the hops, no?

  • sojufan_5944

    good point wangkon

  • Q
  • slim

    Of all the things to circle the wagon around for Korea Inc, beer should not be one.

    I think WK’s “defense” is fine for what it does (although Heineken is another commodity beer, not a particularly flavorful one) , but completely off target on the issue in question and the main point raised by The Economist : Duopoly, trade barriers and vested interests for years standing in the way of most of Korea’s 49 million even knowing what other beers taste like. Another rigged market.

    Also, there are world grain prices and then there’s the price of bringing grain into a country with notorious farm tariffs and quotas — or sourcing it at the high prices those tariffs create. I don’t have the data at hand or the time to find it now. But note the anecdote above (angusmack at 15) about the brewmaster who had to agree to use 50% local barley. That’s what this is about. My brewing friends in Japan when they started out were permitted to use 90% imported barley but had to use 10% Japanese barley. Guess what: The 10% domestic portion COST MORE than the 90% imported part.

    This is really another one to file under “mercantilism and its discontents.”

    WK wearing the economics/finance guy hat is far more effective than WK bearing the tribal defender ajossi shield, IMHO.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    slim,

    Circling the wagons? Why would I do that? Do I make it a habit here to do that? Viewpoints in the West tend to be culturally myopic and the way it is often said sounds downright arrogant sometimes (although that might not be the intent). I’m calling attention to that. All I’m saying is that maybe Koreans like their beers boring because their food is too exciting (or just has too much going on). If there was a market for more flavorful beer, you don’t think OB or Hite wouldn’t be all over it like flies on fresh sh*t? I’m not in defense mode at all.

  • ecw

    Koreans may just have different tastes for beer. Their spin on Western deserts and baked goods is similarly less rich, less sweet, and blander tasting. Also, scrapping agricultural protectionism for better beer that they might not even really appreciate doesn’t seem sensible since food security is a national security issue.

  • Angusmack

    @43

    I think your criticisms of some the arguments here are off the mark. I don’t think most Korean beers are tasteless, on the contrary, most mass produced Korean has plenty of taste and it tastes foul; especially Hite. There are plenty of subtly flavoured lagers on the market with light malt and hop profiles that a joy to drink, don’t overwhelm (think Sam Adams lager) and would be fine with Korean food. If the large brewers offered well crafted beer, people would soak it up. To say that Koreans prefer this stuff because it suits their taste is, I think, simply wrong. Conditioned to accept a product that doesn’t even aspire to mediocrity? Sure. But until recently there has been no real alternative, now there is and people are buying it. Check out the imported beer section at E-Mart next time you’re Seoul or the trendy 20 somethings that have taken over the pubs in Itaewon. There are not enough barbarians in the country to account for how the European lagers fly off the shelves or empty the kegs.

  • CactusMcHarris

    #34 Broona,

    I guess it depends on what level of taste you enjoy. If you’re happy with Bud, fine. I’m happy that I’ll (hope to) never drink another Bud again.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Angusmack,

    Yes, some of the Sam Adam’s lagers can work with Korean food. Personally, I don’t think Hite tastes foul. As an Irish friend once told me, it tastes like water, but it was inoffensive otherwise.

    I had a friend who managed a bar in Koreatown, Los Angeles and the Koreans and Korean Americans that frequented that bar have a choice between Hite, Cass, Corona, various Sam Adams, Coors Light, Bud, Guinness and Heineken on tap. Mind you these are people who have free access to all kinds of beers in America and have lived in the states for a significant period of time or (like me) all their lives. What was the best seller? Hite and Cass, followed by Coors Light and Corona. Who are you to say that something tastes generally foul? All you can say is that it tastes foul to you.

  • jkitchstk

    “All I’m saying is that maybe Koreans like their beers boring because their food is too exciting (or just has too much going on).”

    What’s so exciting about rice and kimchi with most every meal(or beans, weeds, fat(60%), one food diets, etc…)? And with traditional dishes there best not be any deviation from recipes.

  • MrMao

    If I have spicy X or oY(various types of popular anju) I wouldn’t want to down it with Z.

    - And this obsession with perfect pairings of certain types of food at certain times of the year is part of what makes Koreans different from westerners, but let one million flowers bloom and see what happens. You might be surprised how versatile some of these tastes are.

  • MrMao

    Wangkon: it’s foul, full stop. Who am I? I am a guy that can out-drink every Korean man in the room. BUT Canada makes far worse mass-produced beer (Cariboo, Pacific Western, TNT). Open up the market and see how much better (and worse) it can get! What are you afraid of?

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    I’m not afraid of anything. Open up the beer market. Let the imported beers flow in. I don’t care. Maybe ingredients for beers might be harder given the farm lobby in Korea. If malt barley is more expensive in Korea as some suspect, then that would be a bit more difficult nut to crack.

    I think foreign beers will be more popular in Korea as they should be. I don’t know if Koreans will embrace them immediately though. I think it will take time because most Koreans like watery brews. They will have to get use to more flavorful beers.

  • Q

    Ah, there are more. Check out why Mr. Mochizuki would not go back to Tokyo. Three concerns:

    1. Additional explosion
    2. Food
    3. Black substance

    http://fukushima-diary.com/2012/12/column-3-reasons-why-i-dont-go-back-to-tokyo/

  • Yu Bum Suk

    I think WK’s analysis is pretty spot on, but I wonder if group drinking also has something to do with it. I don’t know a lot of Koreans who pull a single bottle of beer out of the fridge at home by themselves, sit back, and enjoy it for the taste and then stop after one or two. If almost all the drinking is done in groups it makes sense that people want familiarity and nothing anyone will find too strong or unusual.

  • Angusmack

    WangKon,

    Oh, that doesn’t surprise me that most people chose Korean beer to go with Korean food. But is it the result of taste pairing? Habit? Food nationalism (for lack of a better phrase)? So why not pair great food with a great beer? The mismatch between the quality of the food here and the beer used to wash it down is night and day. It deserves better.

    Unfortunately we won’t be seeing any serious moves in that direction from the large brewers. Even if they do see the market for quality beer developing they’re unlikely to make a move. Just like in North America, A-B, Miller, Molson’s, or Coors couldn’t or wouldn’t fill the demand twenty years ago. The small craft brewers could and did. They also occupy the only section of the beer industry that grows year on year, while the rest is relatively flat. The same situation may well play out here; large behemoths catering to the lowest common denominator and small agile players developing niche markets.

    Now, who am I to say something tastes foul? A beer snob who takes his pint very seriously. And I am far from alone in my opinion.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Angusmack,

    You said in # 60:

    “Now, who am I to say something tastes foul? A beer snob who takes his pint very seriously. And I am far from alone in my opinion.”

    And I said in # 43:

    “Now, on the international stage, do Korean beers suck to most beer connoisseurs? Absolutely. I’m not gonna deny that at all.”

    But again, it may taste bad to you and by international beer standards it may taste bad, but if 48M people or so like it, who’s to tell them what tastes good?

    As for me, I like good beers just as much as the next guy. My current favorites right now are Fat Tire and Shock Top. But… I will not eat it with spicy, garlicky or tangy Korean foods. It just doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t make the beer taste right and it doesn’t make the food taste right. I can, however, eat it with Korean bbq though because the flavors are (expect the spicy stuff) more compatible with Western palates.

    I normally don’t drink Hite or Cass. Honestly, I don’t like the taste of either just by themselves. I would never drink Hite with pizza and chicken wings. However, whenever I think of nakji bokum or kimchi tofu or Korean chicken wings with that hot pepper paste sauce drenched over it, my mind instantly turns to Hite. I don’t think I’m the only Korean where that happens.

  • Wedge

    Slim is correct: I was referring to Japanese micros in the 90s, which were nothing special (generally very malty and thus sweet). Japanese macro beers are some of the world’s best macros. The Japanese micro scene is now way more evolved–I checked it out first hand at two separate and distinct beer festivals in September. Fortunately, some Korean microbrewers were on that trip and hopefully learned some good lessons.

    And yes, Platinum was the exception to the usual brewpub crap in the Kangnam area, thanks to Phil and the owner Tim. That was the one exception. Phil would dump the Korean malt he was required to buy since it was horrible. Fortunately, there was no tariff on hops so he didn’t stint on those. FTAs are making malt much more affordable, and even driving down the price of Korean malt.

  • mitchel-murray

    Is it really so hard to understand what WangKon is saying? The guy likes to drink Korean beer when eating Korean food. Otherwise it just feels wrong, kinda like a white girl calling him oppa or a white guy singing K-pop. Korean beer just tastes right for Korean palates.

  • feld_dog

    Re: the price of barley.
    I may be wrong about this, but isn’t a concern with barley not just the price but the TIME needed to malt it (i.e., steeping it in water so it germinates, then heating it to stop the process, then milling it to remove the germinated part, etc.)? I believe that no such lengthy process is needed for corn or rice. Is this correct? Does the barley purchased by the big brewers come pre-malted or not? Perhaps the cheap price quoted for barley @44 is pre-malted grain.

  • jdog2050

    Good Beer actually goes VERY well with Korean food–

    Eating something with gochu-jang? Try an IPA to increase the heat or a porter to bring it down.

    Eating a light Korean soup? Bring on a Pilsner or a Belgian White

    Eating something fishy? Try a pilsner or wheat ale

    The problem is that no one is professionally pairing the food yet. It’ll happen and it’ll blow people’s minds.

  • jdog2050

    So just to elaborate, I understand what Wang-Kon is saying, but I disagree to a large extent. It’s less of a “Hite is simply what goes with Korean food” situation and more of a “we’ve painted ourselves into a culinary corner” situation.

    1st of all, I don’t consider Hite and Cass “Korean” beers. Both of them are simply Budweiser with a skimpier flavor profile. What about that is “Korean”? What Korean brewing or culinary tradition do either of them come from?

    Again, this is a case where people associate them with Korean food, not because they actually match, but because it’s all that’s easily available. Saying that Cass matches Korean food is like saying Water matches Korean food. I mean, yeah, it’s *nice* to have some Korean fried chicken with a cold cass, but it’d be *orgasmic* to have it with some Czech Budvar Lager. See the difference?

    @Wangkon–Here are some pairings for the anju you mentioned, all the beers are available in Korea (P.s., Heineken and Newcastle are SHIT):

    ojingo bokum: Indica IPA

    nakji bokkeum: Avintus Eisbock

    dubu kimchi: Samuel Adams

  • platethief

    I can find no context for drinking Korean beer.

    Corona is a light yet still flavoursome beer that compliments food as best a lager can. But, if I really care that much about what I’m eating, I wouldn’t be drinking lager with it.

    The sooner Korean laws allow for more brews, the sooner the likes of Hite and Cass can be cast into the bin.

  • jdog2050

    Finally, on the “price of barley”–

    The commodity prices of malted barley and the price of barley once it gets into Korea are totally different.

    You see, the Korean government imposes a 500% tax (yes, 500%) on “brewing” ingredients. Corn and Rice are exempt from this since they don’t need to be malted to be added to beer, whereas malted barley is basically only useful for making beer.

    So it’s totally disingenous for that company exec to start whining about how corn and rice are more expensive when he knows damned well that they’re not.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    mitchel-murray @ #63,

    Well, well, you are a good listener and you have a good memory. I’m impressed. I think that reference to white girls and “oppa” is at least a year old. Although I find it odd that you picked on those idiocracies as negative in some way.

    jdog2050,

    I am a common and humble beer consumer, not a beer connoisseur. However, I believe most people are like me, consumers rather than connoisseurs so not familiar with the more niche and esoteric brands. Perhaps nakji bokkeum tastes good with Avintus Eisbock. I don’t know. There are no Korean restaurants or bars that I know even in the U.S. (where microbrews and the more less known brands are readily available) that serve Avintus, Indica IPA, et al. I can see some Sam Adams going well with kimchi tofu and some Korean bars in America serve Sam Adams.

    Let me move into my next point by mentioning that there are some interesting microbrews in Koreatown, Los Angeles that are Korean owned:

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/biergarten-los-angeles
    http://www.yelp.com/biz/beer-belly-los-angeles

    However, as you can see from their menus, the food they serve is highly Western inspired.

    Here is the deal guys. I LIVE in an area that has a lot of Koreans AND freely available microbrews and craft beers. NOBODY is running to pair traditional Korean food with these kinds of beers. What I’m seeing is a sort of preview and sampling of what would happen if you mix Koreans with niche beers in a larger scale. Less affect than you may think, and there are almost 300k Koreans in Los Angeles. There have been at least 150k Korean in Los Angeles since the 80′s so over 30 years. Isn’t that a pretty decent population sample? The Korean palate just finds it hard to accept, in a large scale, Western beer and Korean food pairings. I guess you can propose a lot of theories as to why this is, but per Occam’s razor, the best answer is probably the simplest. The Korean palate is just different. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just different. Perhaps the expat mind revolts at this because it’s homesick or really believes its way is the best way, regardless of the culture and traditions of its hosts. I don’t know.

  • jdog2050

    @Wangkon:

    Full disclosure, since I’ve already posted it before on this site, but I started a microbrewery in Seoul. Lemme tell ya, at this point we get more Korean customers than foreigners, and we get a *lot* of older Koreans and a sizable number have become regulars.

    Not only that, but we absolutely don’t serve typical German beers or light lagers.

    I agree that Koreans have a different palatte in the sense of the flavor combinations that they enjoy and the *amount* of certain ingredients like salt and sugar, etc. That said, I vehemently disagree that Koreans somehow just prefer watery beer. They don’t. Very few people do once they’ve had a decent ale.

    I’ve always seen things in the sense that any country new to a product has to be worked up through levels. Look at coffee in America and Korea. Before there was any sort of “coffee culture” in either country, freeze dried or watery “diner” coffee was perfectly fine and you’d be laughed at if you needed something fancy. These days, you can’t be a serious cafe without at least 10 different varieties of beans and 2 or 3 preparation methods. Why is this? We could talk about it all day but it comes down to the simple fact that even Starbucks is better than what coffee used to be in America and Korea.

    I think beer is going to go through the same thing in Asia, and in fact it already is. Japan took the lead but craft brewing in China has taken off in a big way.

    Lastly, I think what you’re seeing in Korea town is just nostalgia bro, and I don’t think it really translates into what’s happening on the ground in Seoul.

  • mitchel-murray

    “Well, well, you are a good listener and you have a good memory. I’m impressed. I think that reference to white girls and “oppa” is at least a year old. Although I find it odd that you picked on those idiocracies as negative in some way.”

    At least a year old? It was October. And I wasn’t the one who thought the pairing were negative, you did:

    What happens when you mix white boys and K-pop? You get this disaster. Wow, it sounds like what pouring spaghetti sauce over japchae would taste like.

    Real bad. It’s like cooked sashimi, a white girl calling me “oppah,” or chemically fermented and nasty “kimuchi.”
    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2012/10/19/what-happens-when-you-mix-white-boys-and-k-pop/

    Let’s keep Korean things pure by mixing in the foreign element. I get it. Nothing wrong with nationalist beer drinking. Reminds me of my stay in Cambodia when me and my friends were taught to say “My Country, My Beer” in Khmer. A good lesson. Maybe you could start a campaign like that in Korea. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1O5FO-fXYM

  • mitchel-murray

    That should be “NOT mixing in,” of course.

  • slim

    The collision of logic and emotion here is more violent than even a pairing of Delirium Tremens and Cholla’s hottest Kimchi-jiggae.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    jdog2050,

    Those are some good points. Back in business school I actually did a case study on InBev’s merger with Anheuser Busch and microbrews and craft beers are eating into big beer company sales and profits. However, when you look at the overall beer industry of medium to large countries (with the notable exceptions to England and central European countries like Germany) microbrews and craft beers make up a relatively small percentage of sales. It’s a niche market. Why? Because of global beer concerns like Anheuser Busch/InBev, SABMiller, Molson Coors, etc. The beer industry will not, at least in the foreseeable future, be as fragmented as the wine or coffee industry. There is just too much money and market share at stake for the big players to let too much of their dominance to be bled like that. They will just out muscle you with their superior distribution, production, etc. or they will just buy you. That’s been the history of the industry. Now, does that mean you can’t run a successful microbrew and gastropub and make a good living out of it? Of course not. Does that mean there isn’t room for small brands to make a big splash like Sam Adams did in the 90′s? Of course not. But, I think deep in your head and heart you’ll agree that a Sam Adams type case is the exception rather than the norm.

    However, entrepreneurs routinely have a cavalier “David vs. Goliath” confidence and that’s what makes them successful… sometimes. Best of luck to you!

    Regarding nostalgia. The larger majority of Koreans will continue to drink the Korean beers because it’s tailored to them. If you completely open up the beer market, you’ll see see the same. I’m basing my thoughts on my observations and experience with a huge sampling of Koreans outside Korea who have free access to whatever beer they want without any trade hindrance. Anyone is free to disagree with me. I have no idea why some must do it with vitriol. You haven’t and that’s cool. I guess the subject of beer is an emotional one.

    mitchel-murray,

    You are barking up the wrong tree. You must think that I am against ethnic mixing when in fact I’m a chill and tolerant person from Southern California. One of my two sisters is engaged to a white guy from Australia and I’ve enjoyed many a Fosters with him. If you selectively lift words from out of context (which you do) you can make anyone look bad. Sure there are Koreans who are concerned with ethnic purity. I’m not one of them and you shouldn’t transfer your belligerence on those people to me.

    My thoughts on Korean beers and the beer market is not centered on ethic pride or desires for some type of purity. Hell, if I was as you say I am, then I would have moved out of Southern California years ago. This place is so dizzyingly ethnically diverse I would have gone insane if I was as racist as you think. Any ways, my thoughts are centered on culture, different tastes and market dynamics.

    I’m also frustrated when Western people are frustrated that people from a different cultural context can’t be just like them and have the same tastes. Because of that frustration they whine and complain. Usually some variation of the “why can’t this place be more like home,” or “these people just don’t get it and things are done so much better where I come from” complaint. Sometimes it’s done with creativity and wit, but it’s still the same basic complaint. Because their minds can’t wrap themselves around the simple fact that different countries operate in different ways, they have to make mountains out of mole hills and talk about the country negatively like it’s just as bad as Afghanistan or Sierra Leone. Well, tolerance and open mindedness goes both ways and if several million people (i.e. the vast majority) don’t agree with you on something then sometimes you’re just going to have to learn how to live with it without being such a big cry baby. You want to be tolerated and accepted? Well look in the mirror first bro.

    slim,

    Seriously? Don’t have any logical points to add so you resort to name calling? Fire off a few (wildly inaccurate) parting shots as the last recourse? I had believed you to be more intelligent then that. The addition of a few 50 cent words do not sufficiently mask the core juvenile nature of your response. I had once thought higher of you. Perhaps my positive impressions have been misplaced.

  • dogbertt

    Don’t many Australians (ockers? bogans?) claim that Fosters isn’t “real beer”.

    Anyhoo, I agree 100% with WangKon.

  • slim

    Frankly WK, the logical points were made in spades above by practically everyone BUT you. I’m not the one who has lost control of emotions here.

    Maybe we need a “beer summit”?

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    … or beer détente.

  • Q

    Real bad. It’s like cooked sashimi, a white girl calling me “oppah,” or chemically fermented and nasty “kimuchi.”

    How about teaching Engrish in Japanese style? That might be the only mixture of culture that could satisfy Western pervs:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WMt850O0lBM

  • mitchel-murray

    #75. I agree 100% with WangKon.

    Me too! If it’s Korean food tonite, The Hite’s a’rite!

  • Yu Bum Suk

    Went to a staff dinner last night and I must have downed at least four bottles worth of Hite. No time to savour the taste when your coworkers are shovelling so much samgyupsal into your onion bowl. As long as it’s cold it’s fine.

  • Awarren

    Wangkon,

    I don’t agree with you at all on this subject. If we are talking about the merits of Korean food or social customs these are different, but beer is not the same. Anyone who whined in the 90s that Koreans who preferred weak boricha coffee over the real stuff didn’t get it – were right. But actually, it was easy for Korean customs to align with the rest of the coffee drinking world because there were no real barriers to improving coffee.

    Beer is different. I would like to direct you to part an article from a fairly good barometer of conservative, mainstream Korea –

    http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2010/08/23/2010082302022.html

    “이제 많은 사람이 외국 술과 국산 술을 비교하게 됐다. 직접 비교하기 가장 좋은 술이 맥주다. 그런데 우리 맥주가 맥주의 본고장이라는 독일은 말할 것도 없고, 일본과 중국, 심지어 필리핀 맥주보다 못하다는 사람들이 의외로 많다. 국내 외국인들은 “한국 맥주는 물 같다”고 하고, 양조 기술자는 “한국 맥주 맛은 서로 구별하기도 어렵다”고 한다.

    그 이유는 우리 업체들이 맥주를 제대로 만들지 않기 때문이다. 맥주의 기본 원료는 맥아다. 일본에서는 맥아 함량이 최하 66.7%는 돼야 맥주라고 한다. 독일은 더 엄격하다. 그러나 우리나라는 주세법상 맥아 함량이 10%만 넘어도 ‘맥주’다. 우리 업체들은 자기 맥주에 맥아 함량이 얼마인지 밝히지도 않는다. 이러는 이유는 맥아가 비싸기 때문일 것이다.”

    이렇게 하고서도 이 업체들이 돈을 버는 것은 술 관련 규정이 기존 2개 업체 외에는 맥주 시장에 진출하기가 어렵게 돼 있기 때문이다. 현행 규정으로는 연간 생산규모가 500mL짜리 기준으로 최소 370만병을 만들 수 있어야 맥주 생산 허가를 받을 수 있다. 이 같은 설비를 갖추려면 수천억원대 투자가 필요한데, 자본력이 없는 중소기업으로서는 불가능한 일이다. 왜 이런 규정이 있는지는 알 수 없으나 어쨌든 그 결과로 2개 업체의 점유율은 98%다. ‘땅 짚고 헤엄치기’ 경영을 하는데 ‘맥주 맛’에 사활을 걸 이유가 없다.”

    Take a look at some of the comments from this article. Besides my own observations and comments from Korean acquaintances, I am also influenced by articles such as these. In fact, I will go as far to say that if I told Korean colleagues or acquaintances that I like basically all types of foreign beer over Korean beer and that Korean’s palates are more matched to Cass and Hite, they would be insulted.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Awarren,

    That article is actually a good find. At the same time, I don’t think I ever said that Korean beers taste great over other beers or if there are no trade barriers impeding a more diverse beer industry in Korea. The alcohol industry could use some liberalization. As that article pointed out, even some Koreans believe this. However, I still stand by the general thesis of what I had said earlier that Koreans have different tastes and that affects their preference of beers.

    Let’s step away from the overseas Korean industry and look at the Korean food industry. In major metropolitan areas have a lot of diversity. Koreans can now eat at a lot of other choices such as TGIFs, Bennigans, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, Pizza Hut, etc. Also Korean shops have more Western foods, albeit many of those items are more expensive then they should be. Are there still trade barriers? Yes. Hopefully, they will fade over time. Any ways, although Koreans still have a lot more food preferences, Korean food still remains not only still very popular, but it is still what most Koreans eat on a day to day basis.

    Your colleagues and acquaintances might be more the exception rather than the norm. They are probably more western than the average Korean, no? They may interact with Westerners more than the average Korean, no? One must ask if they representative of the overall population rather than a group that is selected because they agree with you. My population sample size is 300k.

  • que337

    Food regulation limit of US is 12 times more lax than Japan, US may import Japanese fishery products

    http://youtu.be/fMVS5flidB4

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