Story by: Ryan Noel, Photos by: Ryan Noel
Beer, like all good things crafted by humankind, begins with people. Yes, you need good ingredients, but to make the selection of what and how to use those ingredients, you need good people. Hopefully you have people looking for something in particular, something special. They should be working at something that inspires them. They should seek out others with like passions and build something together. In this case, the five founders of 7brau are doing just that here in Korea.
Having earned the first production license since one was given to OB some 77 years ago, 7brau’s popularity is spreading. How the 7brau IPA became 7brau’s flagship and how its sister brews came into creation is a story about balance and determination. It has to do with everyday hard work and holding on to ideals. 7brau’s beer comes in three varieties: a pilsner, an India pale ale (or IPA) and a stout. In general, Korean beer has been lager, lager, lager. 7brau wanted to be different, and thanks to the insistence of directors Kim Kyo-ju and Sean Carter, the IPA found its place.
For an IPA, it is not overly hopped, gently sweet, sufficiently strong and easy to drink. IPA fans may complain it isn’t hoppy enough, but then Korea is still learning to appreciate this. The flavor profile is designed to allow Korean beer drinkers to enjoy their first IPA experience while still satisfying foreign palates.
7brau is a completely independent operation, which is why it doesn’t taste like something made in a factory. Sample some and you can tell it is nothing like OB, Cass or Hite. That difference in taste does not come from research and development. It comes from purity, beginning with water from an insanely deep (over 800 meters) well in the mountains of Gangwon Province, where the brewery is located. All-natural barley, hops, malt and other ingredients follow. No extracts or additives are part of the mix. The pilsner is most similar to the familiar Korean lager, but smoother, full-bodied and with a hint of sweetness. Most importantly, it has none of the flaccid, bitter, flat or weak tones about which most Korean beer-drinkers complain. Again, this was designed with Koreans and foreigners in mind.
Lastly, we have the stout. Nicely dark, made with roasted barley and dark malt, this unfiltered beauty is still light when compared to most other stouts. But once more, 7brau Stout was not designed to be like other stouts. It does happen to be the easiest to drink of any stout I have ever consumed. Koreans generally do not dig in to dark hearty loaves of bread as a dietary staple, so why should drinking a Korean stout be like eating a loaf of bread? It shouldn’t.
It all comes together in a glorious mountain setting. The air is clean and fresh; and the mountainside is a luxurious green. The brewery building itself is an adapted winery that has been refitted. Copper kettles are the first things to greet your eyes as you enter. To the left are two rows of large shining vats holding the liquid goodness. That’s pretty much it. There are some modest office spaces upstairs and a place for the brewmaster or his assistant to sleep (they keep a 24-hour watch on things). Although large enough to meet government specifications for licensing, the brewery isn’t much bigger than a microbrewery. Compared to some American microbreweries (not so micro anymore) it is quite small.
It seems everyone involved with 7brau has beer in his veins. CEO Kim Kang-sam got his start in beer with his first microbrewery bar, Carib, located in Balsan, in 1998. Braumeister and Director Yoon Jin-soo has been brewing since 2003. Having studied under a German master, he further honed his skills at locations like Carib and Trains in Seoul Station before he came to work his magic at 7brau. Director and beer enthusiast Yoon In-soo is the owner of three restaurants near Gangnam Station. Kyo-ju is a member of Mek Man Dong, the Korean home brewing group, when he’s not busy being CEO at REAS Energy Consulting in Seocho. Lastly, but best known among expats, is Carter. Carter has lived in Korea for the past 10 years. He accredits his work ethic to his brother and jokes that he “earned his beer degree in consumption.” His passion for beer brought him together with the other partners. These five entrepreneurs are the men behind 7brau.
What unfolded, and continues to play out, is an acrobatic performance in which 7brau successfully balances its beer between cultures.
If they keep their balance, where will they head next? To a major supermarket near you, possibly as early as September.