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So THAT’s why Korean beer sucks!

The JoongAng Ilbo gives it to the local beer industry with both barrels, exposing what is essentially a Mongolian clusterfuck of tax farming and special interests.

The reader who sent me the link—a person who knows his beer—wrote, “[T]his article in the Joongang is easily the best article I’ve ever read about the beer industry in Korea. Way better than that Economist article.”

About the author: Just the administrator of this humble blog.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    I’d like to know why cans of cheap German and Belgian beer are priced at between 200 and 400 won less than the local brews.  PS.  Fingers crossed for my local HomePlus to start selling the 7Brau IPA.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    Veblen …err Korean good.

  • Keith

    A very informative article. It is quite amazing how poor quality Korean beer is compared to most other countries. Even underdeveloped countries and despotic regimes like north Korea manage to produce better stuff. There is a market for quality, and whilst some are happy to drink cheap stuff, it would be nicer if there was more quality available at cheaper cost. Homeplus is starting to get a pretty good selection, but the imported stuff is quite overpriced. More competition in the market would reduce prices and improve quality.

    The article is very well researched. Whilst mainstream American, European and other beers are generally not very good. At least there is choice and you can choose to drink some horrible crap like Bud or you can enjoy something of quality. In Korea if you want quality you really have to pay a pretty ridiculous premium. In Europe you can buy either really cheap rubbish or great brews and the great stuff is only slightly more expensive. Quality beer in Korea is very expensive.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    What?! Government using taxation as a way to create a monopoly/duopoly and lock out competition?! Well, I’d never have expected such a thing!

  • ig5959292ee

    i should have known..

  • RElgin

    The JoongAng Ilbo has been putting out some better articles going back for some months now.  This is a good trend that needs encouragement.  I only wish they would post more “delicto flagrante” flavour.

  • Jang

    When the price of barley goes up why not just use less, the public won’t know or care.  And the buying and selling of barley by the NTS while accepting bribes or dinner and drinks – salon bars?  Accounting with numbers might not be so boring after all.

  • YangachiBastardo

    Sorry guys but beer in general, mass produced or otherwise, taste like piss. It is really the poor people booze: a relic of horns-over.the-helmet barbaric times. Civilised cultures drink wine and hard liquor

    P.S.

    I’m joking :) 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KFMIOLXZTCWEEJ3GF3YIAZIJ4 mightymouse

    It remains to be seen with the FTA and increasing foreign imports will undermine the current system. 

  • YangachiBastardo

    Very likely it will: other than succumbing to the foreigners they will break the chaebol grip, it happened before

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KFMIOLXZTCWEEJ3GF3YIAZIJ4 mightymouse

    It’s always chaebol style with Korea. Maybe Psy should have parodied them. 

  • JJ

    Korean beer doesn’t suck it just made to suit gyopos’ sucky tastes. Just ask Wangkon.

  • wangkon936

    JJ, you have no idea what my taste in beer is.  Although I did mention that I also liked New Castle and Shock Top.

  • YangachiBastardo

    They already kinda did with this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0P_J8IriN4

    I suspect it was unintentional though 

  • wangkon936

    What’s up with Pabst?  That’s some crappy beer.  How in the world is Pabst popular!?!?!?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KFMIOLXZTCWEEJ3GF3YIAZIJ4 mightymouse

    What Korea needs are beers like Warsteiner(sp?). 

  • http://profiles.google.com/dcmusicfreak DC Musicfreak

    In Washington at least, PBR is the $3 beer for those on a budget or for hipsters to drink “ironically.” 

  • dlbarch

    Jeez, doesn’t anyone have any kind words to say about Crown?

    Anyway, in the rare event that this hasn’t already been posted, let me personally recommend:

    http://craftworkstaphouse.com/

    Further, and at the risk of incurring the wrath and ridicule of, well, pretty much everyone, let me boldly suggest that what Korea needs is the presidential leadership of a Jimmy Carter:

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/76819/how-jimmy-carter-saved-beer

    Finally, as for the hold of the chaebol over the brewery business in Korea, let’s not get our hopes up that the FTA will change that. The name of the game is still distribution, and the major distributors in Korea are…you guessed it.

    Salut,
    DLB

  • Nospam

    The article’s point is spot on. The
    problem is the gov is sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong.
    Why? Because the tenured bureaucrats get paid to prevent competitors
    from succeeding in the local beer market. Rice-cake money; isn’t
    that the translation?

    Want another example? How much does a
    pair of real Levi’s cost in Korea? In the U.S. at JC Penney $40-50 a
    pair. Here W200,000+ for the same.

    Such are the evils of protectionism.
    Whether done by Korea, Japan, the U.S., England, Germany, Russia –
    it does not matter. It’s the common man, the consumer that suffers
    in the short and long run.

    If you want better beer than
    OB/Hite/Cass, the best option is to brew your own at home and teach
    your friends how:

    http://www.homebrewkorea.com/

  • ig5959292ee

     good post

  • http://profiles.google.com/dcmusicfreak DC Musicfreak

    No, but the nicest thing one could say about OB in the past was that Crown was worse.

  • 코리아

    They are SUPPOSED to be in all the locations now according to 7Brau. I did have to hunt for a bit to find it at the Dongtan HomePlus. It was on an endcap away from both domestic and imports. Right now it’s only coming in 6packs and goes for 15,900. I was quite impressed with it, but they need to get there rep to talk to HomePlus about product display.

  • wangkon936

    Seriously people.  Is Cass, Hite or OB really that much worse than Bud, Coors or Miller or any other general mass consumer beer?  I mean, I think the real fuss is the availability of specialty, craft or import beers in Korea, correct?  Are we really under the illusion that Korean mass produced beer is any worse than mass produced beer in say… the U.S.?  Can’t compare Korea to someplace like Germany or even Australia.  That just wouldn’t be a fair comparison.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KFMIOLXZTCWEEJ3GF3YIAZIJ4 mightymouse

    You can thank Park Chung Hee with his protectionism measures to help along entities like Hyundai, Samsung and so forth back in the 70s. Korea really needs to do away with the last vestiges of his legacy. The senior bureaucrats were probably just coming on board back then. It would be interesting to see how Park Geun Hye deals with this legacy. Hopefully she will see this as an impediment and continue pushing for changes mandated by the FTA. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6KFMIOLXZTCWEEJ3GF3YIAZIJ4 mightymouse

    As I recall they are nobetter than glorified water. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/dcmusicfreak DC Musicfreak

    “Is Cass, Hite or OB really that much worse than Bud, Coors or Miller or any other general mass consumer beer?”  The verdict of any visitor I’ve ever drunk with in Korea is “yes”. Something off with Korean beers, although Hite Prime is an all-grain effort that must be acknowledged.  (In Beijing, the first thing my visitors would carp about was the air quality).  As the JoongAng report points out, the meta-issue here involves competition policy, protectionism and a bit of crony capitalism.  For the average Cho, it comes down to choice or the duopoly’s denial of same.
    If I’m ever in a situation that forces me to drink an “industrial” beer, I go for Stella Artois or a Japanese brew. 

  • Cloudfive

    “What’s up with Pabst?”

    Yeah it’s hipster beer. Personally, I think it’s because of Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet” – “Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon”.  Tecate was also popular with the hipsters when I lived in New York. I’ll take PBR, Tecate, Coors and Bud over Hite and Cass. Yes it’s that bad.

  • dlbarch

    DCMF is spot on. Yes, Korean beers are suckier than their Western counterparts, but more to the point is the absence of real choice for Korean consumers. This is entirely by design, and with the active assistance and promotion of the government to boot.

    This is why talk of the salutary effects of FTAs is such nonsense. Once one recognizes how cartelization, government collusion, tax policy, regulation, non-tariff barriers, and chaebol control of distribution networks works in Korea, the limiting nature of Korea’s shin-boho-muyok-juui is clear for all to see (at least for all who bother and care to do so).

    DLB

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

     Is Cass, Hite or OB really that much worse than Bud, Coors or Miller or any other general mass consumer beer?

    If you mean American mass consumer beer, I would say no. But that’s not saying much.

    The main difference, though, is that the US also has a thriving microbrewing industry, while Korea doesn’t for the reasons expressed in the article

    And if we’re making recommendations, there’s Maypie—right next to The Baker’s Table on the road to Namsan Tunnel No. 3.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Thanks.  I’ll be sure to look for it next time I go. Either they hadn’t gotten it last time I went or it was hidden like you said.

  • thedrew

    I was thinking the same thing recently, so I bought  some of the new “Dry Finish” which has the silver can.  Was told it was one of the better ones and I was optimistic.  It was terrible!  I also grabbed some MGD which I haven’t had in years and it it went down way more smoothly on another night.  Something is off in the beer,  it leaves a nasty after taste nearly gives me some goose bumps with its flavour. 

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Korean beer also cleans you out, if you know what I mean.

  • Horace Jeffery Hodges

    Wangkon asks: “Is Cass, Hite or OB really that much worse than Bud, Coors or Miller”?

    A little worse than Bud (can’t speak for Coors or Miller), but Max is better than any of these . . . though it’s also not a good beer.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • bumfromkorea

    I actually don’t mind Miller, but Coor tastes like the piss of an 70 year old man who drinks vinegar instead of water and Bud is just… ugh.  

    I don’t mind OB either, and I never had Cass or Hite.  Truthfully, in Arizona (especially in Tempe), we mostly drink stuff from Four Peaks brewery, Shock Top, or Blue Moon.  Unless you’re uber-Irish, then you’re drinking nothing but Guinness.  

  • 코리아

    You know that Blue Moon is made by Coors, right? Brewed in the same Golden, CO facilities. They don’t advertise it as such, but “Blue Moon Brewery” is wholly owned and operated. Also Shock Top is owned by Anheuser-Busch, but I don’t know if it’s made in separate facilities or not.

  • Wedge1

    7Brau IPA: Not an IPA, more like a slightly hoppy amber ale. They are ruining the category by calling it an IPA.

  • 코리아

    On a side note, discussing beer is about the only thing that makes me particularly homesick. If there’s only two things we do right in Colorado, they’re snowboarding and beer.

  • bumfromkorea

    Still tastes different. :)  In that Blue Moon doesn’t taste like vinegary piss.  

    Forget the Grand Canyon; if you’re in Arizona, you gotta go to Four Peaks and try their oatmeal stout or, if on October, pumpkin porter.

  • Wedge1

    It’s been repositioned as the beer of ironic hipsters, that’s how. Still is shite, though.

  • Wedge1

    I swear I replied to Wangkon before seeing your comment. Great minds think alike, however.

  • 코리아

    That’s a bit unfair and up to interpretation. It has the same general feel (if not quite the same quality) as several microbrew IPAs from back home. Specifically reminded me of the Lucky U from Breckenridge Brewery

  • Wedge1

    Mmmm, Four Peaks Hop Knot…[slobbers, passes out].

  • Wedge1

    OK, if people want to experience the best beer in Korea, they should head to Reilly’s Taphouse in Itaewon. Twenty beers on tap and some good bottles.

    It’s on the main drag just east of the Hamilton Hotel, 3F. Used to be Ginger Bar for you juicy supporters.

  • Wedge1

    If 7Brau sold their IPA as an amber ale I’d be singing its praises. It’s not an IPA and all it will do is confuse the Korean consumer. They’ll later buy a real IPA and say, “Oooh, this is icky and bitter.”

    Kapa’s first attempt at an IPA was a reasonably decent golden ale, that’s what they renamed it, and it sells well.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    As I’ve written before, I once gave a Korean a can of Kokanee, British Columbia’s most popular mass-produced beer. He took one sip and then remarked, ‘Tastes like Hite’. I suppose that’s why I’m perfectly fine with Hite. 

  • Django

    “An additional tax that collects revenue for education is also applied (30 percent of the liquor tax, which in this case is 216 won).”

    How do Koreans see their beer tax dollars back in education?

  • hoju_saram

    When I was a wee lad and exploring the far reaches of Nevada in the late 20th century, I was a pabst blue ribbon aficionado  Not because I was a hipster (post-modern irony didn’t exist them, as far as I was aware), but because it was the cheapest beer in the liquor store, and you could buy it in 6-packs with a cardboard handle – perfect for house parties when you didn’t give a fuck about appearances. Ah, thems were the days.

  • babotaengi

    Korean beers taste better on tap. Even Bud is better than their bottled shit. Drink any mass-produced import, including Miller (Urgh!), and then try to neck a bottle of Hite or any of its cousins. Garaunteed to induce my gag-reflex. Max is a little better than the others, except maybe Dry Finish, but they’re all still uniformly ghastly.

  • gbnhj

    Korean beers taste better on tap.

    Particularly when the tubes and taps are cleaned daily. Even beers like Hite Max take on a creamy head, and end up with more and better flavor. (Then, imagine what they’d taste like if only they were brewed well, using high-quality ingredients.) 

  • Yu Bum Suk

     I’ve had some Hite on tap that was kind of flat. Mind you, about one out of every ten Hite plastic pitcher bottles doesn’t have much fizz to it.

  • cactusmcharris

    I’ll have to give y’all my updated report in about a month, after I’ve had more of a chance to drink my way further down the beer aisle at BevMo. That is such a great place for beverages suitable for all ages / faiths, but mostly for consenting adults.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Lindley/527551270 Jason Lindley

    MAGPIE

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    My bad. Spelling corrected.

  • Arghaeri

    Never even heard of it, thats how popular it is!!

  • Arghaeri

    I see so by your reckoning korean residents have to accept the low bar set by maunstrean american breweries!!!

  • Angusmack

     Yes, Korean beer is that much worse than macro-brewed American beer. Do you really have to ask the question?

  • dlbarch

    BTW, how can there 56 comments (at last count) on a post dedicated to beer with a commentariat of current and former Asia-based expats and no one has yet mentioned Beer Lao?

    Nectar of the gods, man.

    DLB

  • RElgin

    Magpie’s Pale Ale is really very good too.  It is now one of my favorites here in ROK.

  • SomeguyinKorea

     Here’s an experiment for you.  Drink good beer (Belgian, German, microbrew, whatever) for about a month and then have a sip of any mass-produced Korean beer.  One sip is all you’ll need to know you’ve wasted 1500 won.

  • Wedge1

    Beer Lao? As a representative Southeast Asian light lager, it’s a decent entry, a great thirst quencher after trapsing around Luang Prabang all day.

    Compared to what’s available on a cold day in Korea? Nothing to go out of your way to drink.

  • hoju_saram

    It’s better than decent – it won gold at the International Quality Institute beer awards in Belgium - twice.

  • Wedge1

    OK, it’s good for the style. Light lagers happen to not be my style 99% of the time.

  • Silver Surfer

    Yes, the problem is ‘government’. It’s not the industry that pulled the government’s strings to set things up so they benefit. It’s just ‘government’ doing what ‘government’ just likes to do.

  • silver surfer

    Your analysis blames all the wrong things. The problem is not “gov…sticking its nose in where it doesn’t belong” nor is it “tenured bureaucrats” nor is it “protectionism”. Cui bono? Who benefits? The chaebol who own the Korean beer companies, that’s who. The problem is they have too much power and influence and they pull the government’s strings. I agree that it’s the common man who suffers.

  • silver surfer

    Yes. Yes, seriously, Korean beer is worse than other mass consumer beer. It’s certainly hard to get much worse than Bud, Coors, or Miller, but somehow Cass, Hite, and OB have done it.

  • Wedge1

    I know you’re not addressing this at me, but I’d call it “crony capitalism.” Government does what the Big Two want to keep the barriers to entry high–same as in other industries.

  • dlbarch

    Actually, I was being facetious. Maybe it’s the heat and humidity, but I’m amazed at how many backpacker types in Laos and Cambodia absolutely LOVE Beer Lao!

    Which reminds me of this joke:

    At the end of an industry conference, the owners of various beer companies walk into a bar.

    The president of “Budweiser” orders a Bud, the president of “Miller” orders a Miller Lite, Adolph Coors orders a Coors, and the list goes on. Then the waitress asks Arthur Guinness what he wants to drink, and much to everybody’s amazement, Mr. Guinness orders a Coke.

    “Why don’t you order a Guinness?” his colleagues ask.

    “Naah. If you guys won’t drink beer, then neither will I.”

    DLB