South Korea isn’t just fried chicken and K-pop. Nor is it just Soju and Squid Game. This nation has far more to offer the world, especially when it comes to booze. Put simply, Korea loves a cold one.
Go to any 7-eleven and you’ll find a range of brightly coloured alcoholic beverages, each with their own fizzy functionality. These drinks are good for washing down a late-night portion of fried chicken, and they’re fun enough to excite most western travellers, but the more refined palette often craves something else. Something more crafted.
Matching the rise of the independently brewed craft ale across the globe, Korea has a burgeoning beer industry, where unusual flavours are paired effectively with delicious results. There is no need to settle for anything less than excellent beer.
Use this as a short guide to the best breweries/bars in South Korea for those who love to try the best beer a country has to offer.
Sipping in Seoul
After a recent research trip, our team came back with tales of great beer from all over the land. Naturally, Seoul is the place to start. It’s where many of our travellers get their first taste of what makes Korea such a mouth-watering destination.
And with nearly 10 million people, you’d be surprised if you couldn’t get a decent beer.
Dubbed the ‘Brooklyn of Seoul’, this cultural hub is an obvious spot for a brewery. The tightly packed, low-slung buildings act as a cultural maze of delights, tempting you in with playful fonts and place names. It’s hard not to get side-tracked by a shop or two.
Once you’re feeling thirsty, try a glass at the eponymous Seoul Brewery — if you time it right, you’ll get to try one of their taster evenings, with food and different beer from all over the country.
Next, make your way on the metro to the Amazing Brewing Company (somehow calling something amazing is far more charming when it’s in Korea) where you can reward yourself with well over 30 great beers, all served in a room resembling a 1960’s jazz club. Then it’s just a short walk to where you’ll round off your Seongsu tour with the award-winning and Indian-owned JAFA Brewery (built in a renovated chemical factory). Try the Masala Saison to see what all the fuss is about.
Lonely Planet dubbed this part of Seoul the ‘craft beer valley’, and they’re spot on. You’re spoilt for choice with bars featuring beers from many of the local breweries.
Magpie Brewing Co serves up a range of core and seasonal beers, alongside regular tours and classes — like a guide to homebrewing or a guided beer tasting — for those wishing to get more hands on with their experience.
The Booth (who have bars all over Korea) a modern and funky place to taste delicious beer and excite your tastebuds at the same time, as they make a wonderful pizza.
For the Aussies out there Chillhops Brewing Co is your best bet for a taste of home. All beers here are ‘land-down-under’ themed.
If you’re still standing, The Hand and Malt Brew Lab (fitted with a large terrace with sofas) and Namsan Chemistry (iconic outdoor palette seating and a rustic interior) are another two breweries to check out.
There are two lively little breweries in this district, one our team knew well after staying here for most of their time in Seoul.
Euljiro Brewing, with its now iconic neon street sign, is an obvious pick. Approaching the entrance, you feel like you’re in Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’. On a rainy night, even more so. The ambience inside continues the neon theme, and the beer is fantastic (and well-priced). Retiring replicants is optional.
To find your next stop, The Ranch Brewing Euljiro, you’ve got to stay switched on to find its secret entrance. Hidden behind a vending machine, once you’ve entered, you feel like you’ve really earned your beer. Like the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Beers in Busan
Korea’s second biggest city isn’t quite as packed full of breweries as its larger sibling, but you can still get a good tipple if you’re in the right area.
Gorilla has two breweries — one in the Haeundae Beach district, and another taproom in the Gwangalli Beach area — and is a wonderful place to try a wide range of uniquely flavoured beers (why not try the Imperial Gose Raspberry Mint). Regular events occur every week, often with a free pint, so there’s always a reason to visit. And they make food!
Galmegi Brewing has established itself as the brewery-to-beat in Busan, with several taproom and brewery locations scattered across the city.
There’s a beer flight for those interested in trying everything on offer. And in most locations, they serve up Detroit style pizza, to help line your stomach for ‘just one more.’
Gyeongju and Jeonju
Traveling further afield, Nomadic Brewing in Jeonju is a small slice of paradise. Serving a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, a free popcorn machine and a superb selection of IPAs (some Korean, some more familiar) this is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Is there anything better than pouring your own pint? It’s one of life’s great pleasures. Even when it’s allowed in the case of our next spot, Whasoo Brewery, you feel like you’re doing something a bit naughty.
Situated a short walk from Bomun lake in Gyeongju, this megaplex of alcoholic delights, gives you a wristband and says ‘pour to your heart’s content’. Oh, and a robot brings you your food to your table. We’re big fans.
In a rush? Don’t sleep on convenience
Thankfully, you don’t always have to go to a brewery to get good craft beer. As we mentioned earlier, you’re likely to find domestic lagers stocked in convenience stores, but groovier options are much more available these days. Beers to watch out for include:
- Jeju Pellong Ale — Jeju Beer Brewery
- Gyeongbokgung Royal Pride IPA — KABREW
- Twilight American Pale Ale — Amazing Brewing Company
Drop into any convenience store across Korea, and they’ll likely have something to suit your palette.
But they’re not the only option. The aptly named Korean liquor store in Jeonju sells loads of great beers, spirits and other alcoholic libations. This includes some beautiful bottles of Soju and Makgeolli — a spirit that’s having something of a revival amongst the arty types in 2024.
Culturally, the craft beer movement is in its infancy in Korea, so that makes it an exciting time to be involved. Visit any of the places on this list, and you’ll probably feel like you’re a part of a movement, a shift in a nation’s brewing landscape, and one your taste buds will thank you for.
At the very least, you’ll have your thirst satiated, maybe make a new friend or two, and see more of the country as a result. Geonbae!