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Humiliation of Korean beers

Posted July. 17, 2014 07:09,   


Budweiser is not a brand that is highly sought after by people who enjoy rich flavors of beer. It is a Lager beer that tastes similar to Cass and Hite from Korea. Miller and Coors are also Lager beers similar to Budweiser. Because these are imported beer, they are costly in Korea, but they are beers for ordinary people in the U.S., which are cheap and frequently consumed at a pub or bar.

If one visits discount stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club in the U.S., he or she gets surprised to see so wide variety of beers on display. Samuel Adams or Sierra Nevada are Ale beers, and offer deep and thick taste. When this writer tasted Sierra Nevada for the first time several years ago, I was amazed to learn how the beer can taste so gentle and mild. It was priced twice that of Lager beer, but I could hardly forget unique taste the beer has to offer. This beer is great for someone to slowly sip and taste its flavors alone, but is not suitable for making boilermaker popular in Korea.

Guinness, an upscale dark beer from Ireland, is quite expensive. But the Irish beer is sold at an affordable price in the U.S. Beers that are not competitive in quality and price can hardly attract consumers in the U.S. where beers from all different countries compete with each other. There are concerns about soil and water pollution in Japan after the nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima, but Japanese beers such as Asahi, Kirin and Suntory beers sell well in the U.S. despite high prices. I had few chances to see Korean beers at large discount stores in the U.S. Even if they are on display there, I doubt if they would be sold well. Some critics have said Korean beers are even less tasty than Taedongkang Beer from North Korea.

I had a chance to taste Bia Hanoi during my recent business trip to Vietnam. It offered unique taste like Qingdao Beer from China. I was surprised to learn about high quality of the beer from a country, whose per-capita income is less than one tenth of Korea’s. I thought to myself that Korean beer producers might be negligent in research and development due to their business monopoly in Korea. But beer makers cannot be solely blamed because Korean consumers use beers to make boilermaker by mixing them with soju (Korean hard liquor) and whiskies. The volume of Korea’s beer import amounted to 53,619 tons in the first half of this year, an all-time high. This translates into 106 million of 500mL bottles. Would this surge of beer import represent a start of a revolt by Korean consumers who were accustomed to plain taste of OB and Hite beers? Foreign beers have taken over a significant portion of the Korean beer market, which is humiliation of Korean beers without doubt.

Editorial writer Choi Yeong-hae (yhchoi65@donga.com)