July 17, 2013 08:36
A correspondent for the Economist decided to help overhaul what he sees as an insipid domestic beer scene by opening a bar that specializes in serving craft beers in central Seoul’s Yongsan district in May.
“Korean beer isn’t tasty, at least that’s how I feel,” said 31-year-old Daniel Tudor, speaking in fluent Korean. The Englishman, who has lived in the country for five years, said he plans to quit his job at the Economist to focus his energies on the bar.
In an article published on Nov. 22 last year, he wrote that Korean food is among the “most exciting” in the world, but domestic beer is so “boring” that even rival brands from North Korea whet appetites more. In line with the magazine’s protocol, the story lacks a byline.
“Their cuisine is one of the world’s most exciting. South Korean diners would not tolerate bland kimchi (cabbage pickled in garlic and chili) or sannakji (fresh chopped octopus, still wriggling on the plate). So why do they swill boring beer?” he wrote.
“Brewing remains just about the only useful activity at which North Korea beats the South. The North’s Taedonggang Beer, made with equipment imported from Britain, tastes surprisingly good.”
His bar sells two types of beer — “Bill’s Pale Ale” and “Hefe Weiss.” Unlike light lager, the preferred choice in Korea, ale has more of a bitter flavor enriched by hops. A pint (568cc) goes for around W5,000, making them more affordable than many other imported beers.
By way of nibbles, Tudor serves salami and cheese pizza slices for W3,500, or W18,000 per pizza. He learned the art of brewing directly from an American brew master. But all of The Booth’s beer is made at Kappa Brewery in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province. This is one of just four licensed breweries in the country, along with those owned by Hite, Cass and 7Brau.
“The name of the brew master who taught us the recipe is Bill, so we named the ale after him,” Tudor said.
Tudor first visited Korea in 2002 at the height of World Cup fever. He was “captivated by Korean people’s passion and friendliness,” and after graduating from Oxford with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics in 2003, he returned to Korea in 2004 to work as an English teacher, equity trader and researcher for an asset management company.
In 2007, he returned to his hometown of Manchester and finished an MBA degree from the University of Manchester in 2009. One year later he was back in Seoul to work for the Economist.
“I’m not saying that Korean beer is not tasty altogether. It is the best to be mixed with soju or to be eaten with fried chicken. But I always had this disappointment at the lack of diversity in beer in Korea, which has so dynamic, vibrant, and diverse culture,” said Tudor.
He teamed up with Yang Sung-hoo, a 27-year-old financial analyst whom Tudor got to know while working at a securities firm, and Yang’s friend Kim Hee-yoon, a herb medicine doctor. The three beer enthusiasts combed the streets of Seoul to check out the available craft beers before deciding to brew their own to plug a market hole based on an initial investment of W100 million (US$1=W1,119).
Kim works in a clinic in Gangdong-gu, east Seoul, during the day and pulls pints at night. It is a similar story for Yang, who comes to The Booth after wrapping up work at an asset management company. Not an easy day for anyone.
Tudor says he wants to experience as many new things as possible, and focus on running the bar and writing books about Korea.
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