At Magpie, a focus on simplicity
As someone who reviews things food- and brew-related regularly, I've got a checklist. Yes, I know having a checklist for a brewpub sounds a bit uptight, but quality control in reviewing is nearly as important as it is in brewing. The point here is that you will find there are things that you need and things that you don't need in order for a brewpub to be great. At the Magpie Brewing Company, the list of “checks” is a short one:
— Good Beer - check
— Good People - check
— Roof/Walls/Seats - check
There is a simplicity to Magpie that can't be found except on rare occasions. For a beer purist, visiting Magpie is not unlike having an epiphany — a stroke of clarity. It’s similar to the feeling you get when you find something treasured that you had given up for lost.
Started as a “brew kitchen,” Magpie has not developed its interior much past that. Upon entering, you will find it quite bare. The modern metal and concrete of the building have been dressed with little more than lights. Stools line the bar and a single standing table. Jars of barley and glass beakers sit out on the counter near the tap and large kettles rest upon a stove behind the bar. More beer brewing gear sits neatly about than there is equipment to serve patrons. Despite the sparse interior, there is an unexplainable warmth. Perhaps it comes from good vibes stored during the colder months. Perhaps it is the warmth of the kitchen, coming from the heat of the stove and the boiling kettle. Maybe it is just the warmth from my second or third pint of pale ale. Or was it porter ...
In addition to whatever seasonal concoction has been conjured up by its crew, Magpie maintains two flagship brews. The porter is correctly described as warm and dark. Easy drinking for such a dark beer, it is gentle and not at all bitter, but still maintains a sufficient complexity to keep your interest past the first pint. It’s really enjoyable. The pale ale is a hoppy, citrusy American adaptation of an India Pale Ale (IPA), adjusted ever so slightly for Korea. What that boils down to is a dark, golden-amber color (a not-so-pale ale) with that cloudy hint that unfiltered craft beers should have. Nicely sweet, but not overly so, it is a dream come true for folks like me who enjoy the style. Both beers come in nice full pints.
My only reservation is thus. Having grown too big for its britches, most of the brewing is now done off-site at KaBrew, where other local notables do their craft work as well. While this does detract slightly from the overall authenticity of the ultra-micro-craft brewer, it is also a necessary step required to simply provide enough beer to meet demand (or most of the demand anyway). The beer is still great; the attention to quality and to preserving what was created in the original kitchen is still present.
Also, because of the outsourcing, the owners need not spend 28 hours a day brewing beer. They can serve customers, teach brewing classes (contact info@MagpieBrewing.com for details) and have lives outside brewing.
The growth in Magpie's popularity has led to other changes as well, such as a need to expand physical space, not just brewing volume.
Magpie's new basement brewpub has just opened right next to the current location. This new location offers Magpie beers and homemade pizza, plus it’s open a little later. The old location is transitioning into a growler/bottle shop where you can get a pint while picking up a two-liter bottle (glass of course) for home.
Magpie isn’t a place for a quick bite to eat or a romantic dinner (unless you brought your own food). Nor is it a cocktail bar to hang out in and look chic. It also isn't a mega-bar with dozens of beers and scores of tables. While none of these other types of places are bad (in fact, some are now greatly improved as they carry Magpie on tap — be sure to ask at Reilly's Taphouse, Maloney's, Phillies, and Vatos to name a few), they aren't simply about the beer. At Magpie Brewing Co. it is simply about the beer. Simply good beer.
Magpie Brewing Company is located in Gyeongnidan/Itaewon, just behind the Baker’s Table.
용산구 이태원동 691번지 (Yongsan-gu, Itaewon-dong 691)
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 4-11 p.m. Visit www.magpiebrewing.com or find them at Facebook.com/magpiebrewing
Groove Korea website