Photos by ChiHon Kim
Photos by ChiHon Kim

Korean microbrews you can buy at local stores

by ChiHon Kim
Stripes Korea

With the change to South Korea’s Liquor Tax Act in 2014, microbreweries were given the green light to distribute their brews across the peninsula. However, it took a few years to see a large assortment of local craft beers occupy the prime shelf space at the local grocery and convenience stores. But now, there is a pretty good selection of microbrews to choose from at most South Korean stores. Below, I’ve sampled five craft beers that you might want to try.


Inseng Pale Ale, Platinum Brewing Co.

Seoul’s craft beer scene has matured nicely over the last couple years with more additions of breweries and craft beer tap rooms. And Platinum Brewery is believed one of the pioneers of this beer renaissance.

This great pale-ale (ABV 5.2%) made its debut 17 years ago at a tap room in Gangnam, Seoul. Two months ago, it finally made it to CU convenience store shelves, taking its unique taste across the country.

This brown-hued brew carries nice froth with a medium body and a strong bitter and hop profile. The alcohol content is noticeable, but the flavor of the beer provides warmth and comfort, and a hint of a light flower taste rounds it out. As the beer cup medal winner logos on the label suggest, this delicate, brown beer provides a pleasant balanced flavor and will not disappoint.


Mr. Bock, Platinum Brewing Co.

Another great offering from Platinum, Mr. Bock is one I often find myself seeking out. Mr. Bock (6.7ABV) is a lager with a soft mouthfeel that combines sweet and bitter flavors. The sweetness is balanced well with the strong coffee roast that kicks in right after the malty attack. Mr. Bock brings a relatively light body, which is smooth and easy to drink.


Joker Pale Ale, Playground Brewing Co.

Founded in 2015, Playground is an emerging brewery in the North of Gyeonggi-do brewery scene, becoming one of the most recognized due to its high-quality brewing skills.

I visited one of the outlets of Playground in Imjingak earlier this year for my roundup of breweries to visit but couldn’t sample their brews since I was driving. Now, I can buy Playground’s beers at my local grocery store and taste the craftmanship from the comfort of my home.

Joker Pale Ale is smooth, with a slight hoppy flavor. The finish is still smooth but with a sweet and woody flavor. A sip of this beer lingers long enough to beg for another and another. A fine choice from Playground.


Jeju Wig Ale, Jeju Beer Company

Located in Jeju’s Hallim Park, the Jeju Beer Company is an affiliated company of Brooklyn Brewery. Their Jeju Wit Ale was born with the help of the brewer’s technology. It is 5.3 ABV and made with organic Jeju orange peels, which gives a fresh and bright flavor to the beer.

The hazy, golden colored beer has a light body with a white head. The wit ale carries little aroma but has the bright citrus flavors of tangerines with hints of coriander, bananas and wheat. This basic Belgian-style wit has a crisp finish perfect for a summer refreshment.


Hoptandu (bomb) IPA

Founded in 2000, KABREW is a pioneer in South Korea’s craft brewery scene. As the unique matte finish can and its name imply, the beer with a 6.3 ABV also has a heavy hop bitterness. Though it’s labeled as an IPA, Hoptandu tastes more like a Double IPA. 
To me, the heavy bitterness completely overpowered the malt and hop flavor, so it barely carries toasted grains and earthy flavors. I can’t say I enjoyed this beer but hop heads will probably love this.

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