Refreshing Craft Beer in Sizzling Busan
Come summer, Busan becomes the sacred place for craft beer pilgrims. People who love beer visit Gwangalli and Songjeong, not for the sandy beaches but for brew pubs. What exactly is craft beer that makes Busan abuzz in the scorching summer?
Summer has always been a season of beer. People consume beer all year round with fried chicken, pizza, or spicy sea snail salad. On a heated summer day, they enjoy the refreshing sensation of an ice-cold beer that has been just taken out of the refrigerator. The classic exclamation of “Kyah!” seems to always come after the first gulp.
From Lager to Ale
The cooling sensation is actually associated with lager-style drinks among various types of beer. The majority of mass-produced beer that we find on supermarket shelves--the same ones our grandfathers and fathers had--can be categorized as lager. Lagers are beers that have mostly been developed in Germany, a self-proclaimed birthplace of beer, and Czech, using the method of bottom fermenting.

With regard to craft beer, which has become a cultural phenomenon globally rather than a passing trend, there are more ales than lagers. Ale relies on the top fermenting method using the surface yeast. Lager is a beer that is conditioned at a low temperature, while ale requires a room temperature for fermentation, which results in a relatively high alcohol content and a more bitter, richer taste of the liquid. Pale ales favored by many British people had a huge impact on the craft beer market. Particularly, India pale ales, better known as its acronym IPA, is touted as the revolutionary force that has greatly contributed to bringing craft beer to the U.S. market. As can be guessed from the name, the IPA was an invention by a London-based brewer that added extra hops to the ale to preserve it on a long journey to India where British troops were stationed. The unintentional experiment led to the discovery of a wide range of aromas and flavors different hops can provide to the alcoholic beverage. 

It was undoubtedly America that played a central role in establishing the craft beer scene in today’s world. Indian pale ales that were brought over to America instantly gained popularity. The legalization of home brewing in the 1970s served as the momentum. The new law literally created a perfect circumstance for small breweries to start business selling what’s known as the ‘garage beer’ as many interested individuals brewed beer in their garage. Hops grown in the American soil turned out to be rich in fruity or floral scents, and American beer breweries fully took advantage of such findings. As a result, IPAs and other kinds of ales secured their standings in the U.S. craft beer industry.

“A man who lies about beer makes enemies.” - Stephen King-
Mecca for Beer Pilgrims, Busan
The Korean market also joined the craft beer craze, albeit late. In the early 2010s, those who’ve studied beer or tasted craft beer overseas opened their eyes to the flavorful drink. They realized beer is not just a soda with low alcohol content to be mixed with soju and that there could be flavored beers. Calling themselves ‘maekdeok’(beer aficionados), they formed an online society, collected information on how to brew beer themselves, and began producing homebrew. Around the same time, several foreigners residing in Korea thought about brewing their own beer as they missed the flavor of the drink from their hometown, and soon opened a shop to sell craft beer.

Similar situations began arising simultaneously in big cities and regions such as Seoul, Gyeonggi Province, and Busan. Particularly in Gwanganlli of Busan, craft breweries started opening businesses. Could it be because of the ocean? Or the scorching sun? For whatever reason, Busan is currently called the mecca of Korea’s craft beer scene. It is prompted as a U.S. beer rating website included four products from Busan in the ‘10 Best Beers in Korea’ list in 2016. It meant the quality of Busan-born drinks were recognized as excellent despite the small number of local breweries. Spearheading the intensifying craft beer battle in the port city are Galmegi Brewing Company, Gorilla Brewing Company, and Wild Wave Brewing Company.

Craft Beer of Busan

Galmegi Brewing Co.
Galmegi Brewing Company is the first microbrewery to open in Busan, offering American-style craft beer with a strong hop flavor. Founded in Gwangalli in 2014, the microbrewery played an instrumental role in promoting craft beer in the port city and establishing its position in the local market. Foreign nationals from Canada, the United States, and Scotland joined hands to start the business.

Its signature beer is ‘Galmegi IPA’ with subtle aromas of tangerine and pine tree which blend well with the rich hoppy flavor like a true IPA. It is the most popular choice among customers and was awarded by the Asia Beer Championship multiple times. Gose is a German-style sour beer. ‘Yuja Gose’ also received favorable reviews from serious beer fans for its harmonious flavor coming from citrusy Yuja, bay salt, and coriander seeds. The refreshing sourness surprisingly goes well with an unexpected saltiness in the drink.

Galmegi Brewing Co. tends to focus more on the established products rather than diversifying its portfolio. It explains why the brewery does not like to participate in collaboration works that are common practices in the craft beer industry. Recently, however, it showcased a new IPA dubbed ‘Gupo Manse 329’ in collaboration with the Buk-gu District Office of Busan, using as a motif the independence campaign(‘manse’ was the chant) sparked by the incident at Gupo Market on March 29, 1919 during the Japanese colonial rule. The district office provides locally-grown wheat for Galmegi’s recipe which presents a striking first impression in regards to the aroma and flavor of the beverage.

In addition to the original pub in Gwangan, Galmegi Brewing Co. has several franchisees in locations including Haeundae, Nampo-dong. Due to the increased volume of order, the business needed to expand its space in order to boost production. The brewery moved to Daejeo-dong last year. The separation of pub and brewery spaces means that the brewers can no longer enjoy beer at the second-floor pub after finishing their work at the first-floor brewing facility. Instead, more citizens of Busan can now have the pleasure of drinking Galmegi-brewed craft beer after work thanks to the increased production capacity.

Address: 2F, Gwangnam-ro, Suyeong-gu, Busan (Gwangan)
Phone: +82-51-627-4328
Hours: Fri, Sat 16:00-02:00 / Other weekdays, Sunday 17:00-01:00

Gorilla Brewing Co.
According to the website of Gorilla Brewing Company, two British nationals, Andy Green and Paul Edwards, founded the brand in 2015. The emphasis on ‘British’ is to inform potential customers in Korea who are more familiar with the American-style craft beer that the British style craft beer is not to be missed out on. Considering the pale ale is rooted in Britain, the separation between what’s American and British may not mean all that much. One notable difference is that Gorilla Brewing appreciates the balance between hop and malt content. That is why the brewery grows its own hops at a farm in Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang Province.

Gorilla Brewing has made some significant contributions to extending the existing ‘beer culture’ by offering diverse ways to enjoy the craft beer in Busan. It opened the eyes of beer lovers to a variety of fun activities involving beer, implying there is more than just a unique flavor to the craft beer experience. The brewery held cultural and fitness programs, such as yoga and running classes, and summer performances, showing how the community matters to its brand.

Instead of one popular beer, Gorilla Brewing promotes all sorts of beers including stouts, pale ales, and IPAs. In addition to its core lineup, the brewery has released seasonal products through collaboration projects that have come up amid its effort to diversify the craft beer experience in Korea. Its menu features collaborated works, more prominently than other breweries. A stout matured in a soju barrel, a sour ale inspired by a local coffee roaster, and a mala-flavored gose using Sichuan peppercorns are a few examples showing the direction the British-style brewery is heading.

Address: 125 Gwangnam-ro, Suyeong-gu, Busan
Phone: +82-51-714-6258
Hours: Mon-Thu 18:00-23:00 / Fri, Sat 11:30-00:00 (Break time 15:00-17:00) / Sun 11:30-23:00 (Break time 15:00-17:00)

Wild Wave
Songjeong is considered the mecca of surfing among many beaches in Busan. Surfers choose Songjeong for the ocean, not for Haeundae or Gwangalli beaches, to ride waves. That’s where Wild Wave Brewing Company is.

In Busan’s craft beer market, Wild Wave is slightly off the center in regards to the location of the pub and its business philosophy. Instead of the bustling Gwangalli area, it opened its first pub in Songjeong with a focus on sour ale, not pale ale or IPA, which means it is targeting customers with a very specific taste. With the initial Gwangalli pub which opened in 2015, the company was part of a project promoting the local craft beer market, working in partnership with other businesses. Back then it didn’t have the brewing facility, so its recipes were sent to a local brewery for production. Since 2017 when it found a new home in Songjeong, Wild Wave has been independently operating a brewery and pub together.

Sour ale is literally sour and tart, having matured in oak barrels that help the reproduction of microbes. The longer the ageing time, the stronger the acidity gets. Occasionally there are first-time customers who mistake this as a bad beer taste or complain about the pungent kimchi flavor. It is because the sour ale has a strong tartness. It takes some time to get used to the unique flavor, but once you are in, there’s no getting out of it. Sour ales are making their way into the craft beer market dominated by pale ales and IPAs, and emerging as a new favorite among beer manias in Korea.

The flagship drink of Wild Wave is without doubt ‘Surleim.’ It is considered the best craft sour beer produced in Korea and was selected as the best-tasting craft beer in Korea in a survey by a local beer magazine. The brew pub offers other choices including pale ales, IPAs, and stouts, so you can choose what you like or ask for recommendations as a way to gradually familiarize yourself with sour alcoholic beverages. Wild Wave is certain that its customers will eventually turn to its sour ale selection.

Address: 106-1 Songjeongjungang-ro 5beon-gil, Haeundae-gu, Busan
Phone: +82-51-702-0838
Hours: Weekdays 18:00-01:00 / Sat, Sun 12:00-01:00

Easy Steps to Enjoy Craft Beer by Chef Je Jun-wu of Gorilla Brewing Co.
1. Give a good look at the color of the beer first.
2. Lift your beer glass, cover the top, and swirl. Take a deep, or short and quick sniff of the liquid, and see if you can sense the aroma of malt and hop.
3. Remember the first and last taste to feel the gradual buildup of flavors on your taste buds.

I recommend avoiding drinking water or eating too much snack food while drinking beer. When you drink beer, the first sip and the last one feel different. Eating something in-between or drinking water will ruin that process, erasing the taste of the beer in your mouth. So water and snacks are not recommended with beer.
Of course I understand the pleasure of having beer with a good snack food. After you enjoy your first glass per my recommendation, you are free to eat whatever snacks you’d like. Pale ales and IPAs go well with greasy foods, but should not be had with a spicy dish. Stouts have a strong malt aroma and are a good choice for sweet snacks such as hotteok and brownies.
There is no right answer, of course. My suggestions will likely reduce the risk of failure.

August 2020 Editor:Jung Jaewook
Photographer:Kim Zun

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  • August 2020
  • Editor: Jung Jaewook
  • Photographer: Kim Zun
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