Originally appeared in Busan Beat magazine, September 2018.
Seeking to slake a thirst only a quenching cold one can conquer? There are more options in South Korea than ever before.
Since the turn of the decade, an explosion of international beer choices began to occupy supermarket and convenience store shelves. Even more recently, however, thanks to the relaxation of strict laws that once required companies to produce one million liters of beer annually before going to market, more and more humble Korea-based craft brewers are producing and selling sensational suds. While the trend first flourished in Seoul, craft beer has since also taken hold throughout Busan.
Nowhere has the craft caught fire faster in the country’s second-largest city than in the Gwangalli Beach area. Besides several breweries calling Gwangan home, many tap houses, restaurants and pubs have also begun to offer a pleasing variety of India Pale Ales, sour ales and saisons for an evolving, discerning palate.
It all started in 2013 with Galmegi Brewing Company. Debuting within shouting distance to the beach, their beers, first brewed by contract from their own recipes, were a revelation and an instant success. A year later, Galmegi took full control of their hopped-up hopes and opened their own brewery nearby. Today, Galmegi Brewing Company beer can be enjoyed throughout Busan and throughout South Korea. There are currently six Galmegi locations, including the brewery and five franchises in the Kyungsung University/Pukyong National University area, Pusan National University area, in Seomyeon, Nampo and Haeundae.
But, Galmegi is far from the only craft beer option available here these days. Gorilla Brewing Company launched in a fresh but modestly-sized location in the Millak-dong neighborhood in 2016. Quickly seeing a need for expansion, they moved early the following year to a much larger space, a short walk down the road from Galmegi Brewing Company.
Praha 993, based in the F1963 building, located next to Costco in Mangmi-dong, has brought Czech craft beer to South Korea since early 2017. Besides their brewery, Praha 993 beer can be enjoyed in their second location in Seomyeon and at many bars throughout the city. Brewmaster Matěj Žaba, who came to South Korea from the Czech Republic in late 2016, notes the craft beer scene in South Korea is still developing. “I have found more and more people are getting interested in craft beers and the older breweries are increasing their capacities,” he says.
Wild Wave Brewing opened its brewery in Songjeong in 2017. Starting in Gwangan in 2015 as a primarily sour beer collaboration with other breweries, Wild Wave today produces a number of beer styles, from sour to ale, kolsch to IPA. Frank Kang, one of Wild Wave’s founders, notes the incredible growth the Korean craft beer industry has seen in the past five years, especially in Busan. “Many people all over the country have come to Busan for craft pub-crawling,” he says, adding that the city has officially chosen to support the craft beer industry here as one of Busan’s signature tourism products.
Steven Allsopp, CEO of Galmegi Brewing Company, also highlights Busan’s place in Korean craft beer. “There are a limited number of breweries here in Busan but it is considered a mecca among beer enthusiasts,” particularly the Gwangan area, he says. Ryan Blocker, one of Galmegi’s head brewers, says when their first location opened, a foreign clientele already accustomed to craft beers were their main customers. But, that has changed as more and more Koreans have fallen in love with craft beer. “It’s a big change, how much more knowledgeable Koreans are about craft beer now versus then,” he says, noting that “seasonal trends,” how some beers are more popular during hot summer months than those that dominate during cold winters, have emerged.
On Busan’s north side, not only is Galmegi’s Pusan National University location holding court, the Hurshimchung Brau continues to impress. Long before the city’s craft beer revolution had taken hold, this German beer hall influenced destination located in Nongshim Hotel had been one of the preeminent opportunities to try a larger variety of beers. This is especially true every fall, as Hurshimchung Brau has held its own Oktoberfest celebration for over a decade.
Further southwest on Busan Metro line 1, in Nampo-dong, Akitu Taphouse is serving up several beers from Gijang’s Advanced Brewing. Until earlier this year, both the taphouse and brewery were known as Akitu. It is far from the only place to enjoy beers by Advanced, however, which currently does not have its brewery open to the public.
Indeed, with so much craft beer available, much of it brewed right here in Busan, it’s about time the city’s breweries take a tip from the popular “wine trails” of the world and establish a “Craft Beer Trail.” From west to east, north to south, there is a weekend of fun and delicious exploration ahead. We hope you’re thirsty.
For the complete Busan “craft beer trail,” check out the original article on Busan Beat!
JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.