Brewing up a storm
Beer drinking in South Korea has come a distance from the days of macro domination and choices limited to local brands or a trek to Itaewon for a Guinness. The softening of laws on contract brewing and the amount of product brewed has brought an upsurge in places around Seoul to enjoy a range of craft and micro brews.
Catching up fast on the more established brands are the good people at Maloney’s Brewing Company, with William (Bill) M., Bryan K., Jim T., Joe M. and Brendan Maloney bringing two strongly flavoured (and strong in alcohol percentage) concoctions to inflame your palate.
The friends all trace their love of beer back to craft beer discovered in the West, with names such as the Sierra Nevada’s iconic Pale Ale and Celebration Ale name-checked in their beer journey. Coming to Korea by separate routes, they initially met through an admiration for the product already hitting Korean bars. From there came the realization that each could bring a piece of the puzzle to producing beers that nobody was doing. With friends at the Hand and Malt (who were setting up their own operation), they acquired the equipment and overseas ingredients necessary to make the first steps towards American styled-brews at Korean prices.
Maloney’s initial success was the ultra-hoppy Southie Irish Red Ale, a big-flavored, Boston-inspired beverage that at 6% ABV (alcohol by volume) is about 2% ABV more than most beers in its class. A heady mix of extra hops and roasted barley, with a secret grain the knowledge of which few are privy to, it brings a beer brimming with unique character. Their latest venture is what Bill terms “a punch-to-the–face, no-holds barred, hop-assault Columbus colossus” of an India Pale Ale (IPA). Weighing in at a stonking 7.5% ABV, and with tap-handles moulded into fists that are impossible to avoid as you scan the bar, it is, as in Bill’s words, like no other IPA in Korea.
With beers such as these, Maloney’s only needs the drinkers to savor them, and there’s a growing craft-savvy market in the capital and beyond to cater to. A recent, and in many opinions ill-advised, effort to foist Belgian-style sour beers on a market eager to make its own decisions has begun to wane, and there are plenty of craft places clogged with both the well-informed and the curious throughout the year. Interestingly, Bryan sees that despite large swathes of locals not being that knowledgeable, Korean women are leading the craft beer march as they swap the coffee cup for the pint glass. So although the macro breweries still dominate, there is an increasingly large slice of the market to aim for.
In every new market challenges abound, and the Korean beer one is no exception. Recent changes to laws that lowered brewing volume requirements while also cutting tax rates mean that craft beer can be priced more effectively to snare the curious drinker. It’s a tactic set to challenge long-standing behemoth breweries finally beginning to shift uncomfortably on their laurels. For years the only game in town, the emergence of craft breweries, has slowly made local macro breweries step up to the plate. An Economist article that claimed North Korean beer was better than the Southern variety ruffled some feathers, but a loss of face was never going to provide the motivation that a loss of profits would. Changing palates and a more level playing field will help smaller brewers to find a niche in the market, but as Jim points out, with the desire for good beer so huge, there is space for product outside of the Korean norm. Especially if a relatively low price point can be maintained. For that, the reduction in taxes brought in on raw ingredients from abroad has been fantastic. Those taxes, along with cascading alcohol and education taxes are, argues Bill, the biggest reason why local brews are similarly priced to imports. Nevertheless, the Maloney’s crew have ever-increasing confidence in their beverages as they target those who want bold, quality craft beer.
Looking to the future, the crew are eager not to rest on past glories such as the Southie and the recently-unveiled Combat Zone. A third potential beer is a possibility, with seasonal offerings using local fruits a more likely development. Expansion for the brand is key at the moment, with the five keen to bring their brews to as wide a tasting audience as possible. The summer brings brewery tours through their associates at the Hand and Malt brewery and there are regular impromptu tasting sessions across the city courtesy of the Seoul Brew Club. For a few Southies or Combat Zones, Bill suggests Maloney’s Pub and Grill in Gyeongnidan while Joe recommends Craftworks in Itaewon, as well as the Three Manatee or Funky Taphouse in the south of the city. Nairobi bar in the Korea University district stocks both Maloney’s brews while the brewery has also gone out of Seoul to supply TAB in Uijeongbu and DK’s in Daejeon.
There is, however, a plethora of Craft choices to enjoy this summer, and Joe is keen to see the whole community benefit; both drinkers and brewers. “While we’d love everyone to be drinking Southie or Combat Zone, we are more concerned with expanding the Korean craft beer market and knowledge of the really good beers being made locally.” Theirs is a story that may have begun with wanting to take the consumer through a beer journey across the different parts of Boston, but they are keen to build on their knowledge and inspirations to make bigger and better brews in years to come. As a part of a vibrant community, and with a more sophisticated audience, there’s plenty of potential to build into the future.
With thanks to Bill, Bryan, Jim, Joe and Brendan for their help and knowledge.
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Questions for the experts:
Groove found a budding home brewer keen to gain some insights from the Maloney’s brewers.
Is there a common mistake among home brewers that you can give advice on?
Bill: Cleanliness… yeast storage… fermentation temps… cleanliness… quality ingredients… cleanliness.
Bryan: I think for new homebrewers the health of yeast and temperature control of the fermentation process is really a make or break part of the beer making process, sanitation is a close second. You can make quality beer with fresh extract, but you need to keep an eye on the temperature.
Many home brewers struggle with raising the efficiency of their beer. Do you have any tips for raising this efficiency when brewing at home?
Bill: Keep a sack or can of extract handy if you miss the efficiency mark.
Bryan: As an extract brewer I’ve never tried, but have heard the Brew In A Bag (BIAB) process can result in about 85-90% efficiency. It also allows you to not need to purchase a mash tun and manifold so it’s cheaper and less storage space is required.