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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Thursday, December 03, 2020

#3705 - Ark Craft Brewery, Seoul, South Korea - 2/9/2019

Ark Brewery, Seoul, South Korea

In February 2019, Trista and I were making our way back in our last leg around the globe in a half-work/half-vacation trip to London, Gurgaon and back, and we had a long layover in the Incheon Airport, near Seoul. Long layovers are common in Incheon, and thus they have a nifty selection of tours, available without a Visa, and essentially free (basically you just pay the cost of your meal in a local restaurant). It was thanks to this, and a local craft beer movement that had been booming for five years, that I was able to make my one visit to a bar in South Korea.


Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea


We chose the tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace (originally constructed in 1395, and restored in the 19th century after being burnt down in a 1592 Japanese invasion) and the Insa-dong art district ("Small alleyways form labyrinths in between the main streets. The labyrinths are filled with galleries, antique shops, traditional craft shops and traditional teahouses and restaurants"). After our charming tour guide, Jennie, set us free to stroll the grounds and palaces of Gyeongbokgung in the piercing Febuary cold, and watching their dramatic changing-of-the-guard ceremony, we loaded back onto the bus and headed for Insa-Dong. We wound through an alley of shops and ducked below the low ceilings of a local restaurant, Kimchi Village, for a nice lunch, then were again set free for just enough time for a bit of wandering and locating Ark Craft Brewery, up the stairs over some other shops, with just enough time for one relaxing beer.

Winding down an Insa-dong alley
toward our lunch location

As I would learn later, until a few years ago, South Korean beer had a reputation for bland, low quality lagers. At one point, 'The Economist caused an uproar in South Korea when it declared in 2012 that "brewing remains just about the only useful activity at which North Korea beats the South." The article and the success of North Korean microbreweries prompted the South Korean beer industry to reform, including changing the alcohol law to allow microbrewing, in 2014.' (Wikipedia)  Beer had first appeared in Korea with Japanese immigrants in the wake of the 1876 Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity and Japanese dominance for three quarters of century. When Korea was liberated in WWII, the two Japanese breweries were taken over by the U.S. and then the locals, but like the U.S. in the wake of the war, tended to provide only bland, corporate brews.

It wasn't until 1984 that imported beer was legalized, and not until 2002, in advance of World Cup and Busan Asia Games, that brewpubs were legalized. Finally, in April 2014, in the wake of the Economist article and other critiques, the government dropped the mandated minimum volumes for breweries, and the microbrewery and craft beer industry took off. (timeout.com)

Jennie, our friendly tour guide

The Ark Craft Brewery bar is a pleasantly cluttered like most the shops in Insa-dong, but also features some nice, old wood, stacks of root tiles, and a big window looking out across the rooftops of the dong. It seemed like a place that is largely defined by its clientele, but unfortunately we were the only customers at the time. I can't recall the beer I ordered, but I do remember enjoying it, and as usual it is difficult for me to compare with other quality microbrew locations, as the ambiance generally seems similar and my taste varies much more between the individual beers of the place than between the different places. In any case, I am confident that beer lovers would not be disappointed, and I'd love to have an opportunity to try out more of the city's offerings some day.

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