Beer is massively popular in South Korea and even eclipses soju as the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage. Although omnipresent, Korean beer is generally pale American-style lager and it doesn’t have the best reputation. The big players are mostly bland and watery, but they’re certainly refreshing much like a Budweiser or Coors Light.
With craft beer on the rise in Korea, we’re seeing more innovative Korean-brewed beers. From modern IPAs to classic stouts and porters, the range and diversity of Korean beer are evolving.
We’ll go through the top Korean beers available today. Let’s first look at the popular brands you’re most likely to find outside of Korea. Keep reading to see our spotlight on some of the country’s very best small-batch and craft beers.
Here are our picks:
- OB Golden Lager
- Cass Fresh
- Magpie Pale Ale, Magpie Brewing Co
- Robust Porter, Seoul Brewery
- British Stout, Gorilla Brewing Company
- Super IPA, Craftbros Brewing Co
- Sea Breeze, Galmegi Brewing Co.
Probably the most common Korean beer outside of Korea, Hite is a very standard pale lager brewed with rice. At 4.3%, it’s light, refreshing, and easy to drink.
The most redeeming quality of Hite is that it pairs well with spicy food. Alongside something like jeyuk bokkeum (a delicious spicy pork dish), you’ll really appreciate a cold bottle of Hite.
Hite has a very light body, medium-to-high carbonation, and very subtle flavors of cracked grain. The slightly sweet finish and zero hop presence leave much to be desired. All in, it’s a beer that you can’t go wrong choosing on a hot day or with a spicy meal.
Much like Hite, OB Golden Lager is a pale lager with minimal flavor. It’s 4.8% ABV, pale straw colored, highly carbonated, and has a clean flavor profile. OB stands for Oriental Brewery, and they’re actually owned by AB Inbev.
There’s nothing much to complain about OB Golden Lager. It hits the spot when you need a cold beer.
The Original Craft Beer Club searches out exceptional craft beers from around the country and then delivers the monthly beer club selections direct-to-your door.
Another pale lager brewed by the OB group, Cass Fresh is also a good option when you’re looking for a nice, cold beer. A pale straw appearance with a sturdy white foam, the 4.5% ABV goes down smooth and easy.
There’s a light character of fresh malt if you search for it. Otherwise, Cass Fresh is just a crisp, classic American adjunct lager. Another one that goes great with spicy Korean food, or American classics like wings, burgers, and barbecue.
You might have a clear picture of the mainstream Korean beers by now. Well, Kloud isn’t really any different. Again, a pale straw appearance, subtle malt flavors, and tastes precisely like “beer”.
Kloud is 5% ABV, well-brewed, and branded with an upscale European style. Another staple in Korean bars within the country, and available in many Korean restaurants worldwide. It’s a good beer. Drink cold.
Magpie is an innovative craft brewery focusing on contemporary beers with a heavy American influence. Their brewery is on Jeju Island and they also have a taproom in Seoul.
Magpie Pale Ale is their flagship beer, and actually the first one they brewed. It’s an American pale ale that sits at 4.8% ABV and 33 IBU. A balanced malty backbone provides a chewy mouthfeel that plays nicely with the bright, citrus hop flavors.
A classic tasting APA that is a mainstay in the Korean craft scene, and a much-needed departure from the typical Korean pale lagers.
Adored by purists, and often a great gateway style for pale lager drinkers, porters offer a roasty, refreshing profile. Seoul Brewery’s Robust Porter takes all the hallmarks of a classic porter and amps it up. They add coconut, vanilla beans, lactose, and cacao nibs for a truly unique beer in the Korean market.
At 6.6% ABV, this porter is on the heavier side. The flavor additions really give it a dessert-like complexity. Smooth and chocolatey, but with a long, semi-dry finish that keeps it thirst quenching. A great beer for a cold winter’s night or to accompany a dessert any time of year.
Another expertly-crafted classic beer is British Stout by Gorilla Brewing Company. Roasted malts are front and center, providing a complex black coffee flavor. That’s balanced by a sweet finish from caramel malts and English yeast. Creamy and full bodied, Gorilla’s stout is a very respectable ode to British brewing tradition.
No surprise, really. Gorilla was founded in 2015 by two British nationals. Their line-up of beers is a nice mix of British and American styles. They’ve been a very welcome addition to the city of Busan and to the Korean craft beer scene, in general.
For your fix of hazy, New England style IPA, look no further than Craftbros Brewing Co. With a large range of hopped-up IPAs and pale ales, they have made a name for themselves as Korea’s go-to hoppy beer purveyors.
Super IPA is an ultra-hazy juice-bomb that would fit right in at a Boston beer bar. A burst of tropical and dank hops fly out of the glass. A silky smooth mouthfeel lets those New World hops shine. Mango, citrus, and stonefruit are balanced by a subtle dankness and moderate bitterness.
Super IPA is the best IPA in Korea right now.
Galmegi Brewing is an American-style brewpub with 6 locations around Busan, Korea. They have been brewing since 2013, serving in their brewpubs and selling beer around Korea in kegs and cans.
Sea Breeze is a gose brewed with yuja and Korean sea salt. Yuja is the Korean term for yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit similar to lemon. The beer is salty, sour, and extremely refreshing. Certainly unique in the Korean craft beer scene, Sea Breeze pairs nicely with a range of Korean cuisine for its similarity to salty and sour kimchi.