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Korean craft beer company Platinum has travelled a very unique road these past 13 years. While they have been in Korea since the German-style brewpub boom in 2002, Platinum is perhaps the first Korean brewery to focus on American style craft beer. Yet, although they are perhaps the earliest craft beer pioneers in the country, they remain far more unheralded than Craftworks or Ka-Brew. This might be because, unlike those standards of Korean craft beer, Platinum’s road has taken them on routes via China.
Around the time they started building their brewery in China back in 2010, Platinum found themselves a new brewmaster. “John” Junghoon Yoon is a rather tall man with a deep voice, easy smile, wavy hair, and an undeniable love of beer. He first encountered craft beer while studying in the US, and became so enamored that he enrolled at the UC Davis brewing school where he was classmates with Jeremy Marshell, now the brewmaster at Lagunitas. After graduation, John plied his trade at Pony Express Brewery in Kansas and then in several breweries in Korea before joining the Platinum team.
After setting up shop in Korea for the better part of the 2000’s, Platinum had had enough with the pugilistic Korean tax code that still pummels craft brewers today. So by taking the metaphorical slow boat to China and building a sizable production brewery to import the beer from, the company has managed to avoid Korea’s crazy government. This hasn’t stopped Platinum from keeping up with high international standards. As John explains, “We try to secure the best quality of raw ingredients from the whole world with the high-tech brewing equipment.”
Stranger still, Platinum’s brewery was permitted to produce in China but not permitted to sell beer in China. Truly, a kind of bastard brewery was born that might be the first and only of its kind in the world. Despite the craziness, Platinum continued to do what they do best, even if they flew under the radar of some. With craft beer becoming a thriving sub-culture in Seoul, Platinum beers got their brewery running and, after a few years, started to deeply penetrate the Korean craft beer market.
Since joining Platinum, John and his beer have both earned an impeccable pedigree with numerous awards and judging credits. “The quality of our beers is already proved by more than ten medals and trophies from many international beer competitions.” This year alone, Platinum has earned accolades at both the Asia Beer Cup in Tokyo and Australian International Beer Awards. John has also judged for international competitions in Europe and Japan, and even given his expertise judging credentials to the home-brewers of Korea in last year’s Fall Throwdown homebrew competition in Itaewon.
There are many reasons to try Platinum’s beer selection. Even if you’re not familiar with craft beer, Platinum’s options are perhaps the most competitively priced in all Korea, often costing much less than other imported beers like Guinness or Corona. Furthermore, each beer style is a case study in its own restraint and balance. John doesn’t believe in making flashy beers just for the sake of standing out.
Platinum’s main philosophy seems simple, yet is not often duplicated. They wish to serve the best quality beer at the most competitive price. Many craft brewers complicate this philosophy by also trying to brew beer that excites the brewers themselves. That’s great for passionate craft beer fans, but can sometimes prove too novel or advanced for many of the craft beer newbies like those in Korea. Platinum, meanwhile, covers most of the familiar and fundamental styles: pale ale, IPA, stout, weizen, and golden ale.
Currently, more than 900 locations serve Platinum beer in Korea. Five years ago, few could expect even a hundred establishments offering craft beer at all. Although Platinum has a beautiful flagship pub in the hip neighborhood of Hongdae, it’s the greater market penetration and its focus on well-rounded, accessible beers that makes Platinum perhaps the most well suited Korean brewery to make a deep impact on domestic beer choices.
Despite the tax codes remaining somewhat draconian for small-to-medium scale craft brewers, John points out that the Korean market and its demand for well-crafted pints is there. “[A] brand new craft brewery [has] appeared every single twelve hour[s] in the US now and you can see the popularity of craft beer… all over the world.” Many, and that’s John included, see this trend picking up so much steam that the Korean government will have to take notice.
Platinum looks towards a brighter future as changes in the Korean tax code, which helped precipitate the current craft brewery boom, have drawn the company back to Korea. Within the year, they expect to start a major beer production for brewing and packaging in Jeongpyeong. This means Korea can expect to see a big push by Platinum to get its beers into more establishments and maybe even on some convenience store shelves.
Regardless of what happens with the bureaucracy, Platinum’s reputation and focus combined with a new Korean brewery should ensure the bright future.
Beers on Tap at Platinum
The Platinum Pale Ale, a Gold Medal Winner at the Australian International Beer Awards and Platinum’s most popular beer, is fantastically crafted. Mixing American hops with more moderate German ones, it offers citrus and floral notes while mellowing the bitterness. Moderately strong at 5% alcohol (abv), it is nonetheless an easy-drinking, full-bodied ale perfect for any level of beer lover.
For more serious beer drinkers used to the flood of hoppy IPAs available these days, the I.P.A appeals to the more sophisticated palettes. It’s fairly malty, with an almost amber color, and beefed up to 6.8% abv. A complex mix of hops from the US, Germany, and the UK give it a well-rounded and satisfying hoppy finish. However, it’s not chasing customers who believe that pain is pleasure and the bitterer the better. Moderate beer drinkers may still be up for tackling this beer, which was a Grand Prize Winner at this year’s Korea Drink Awards.
The Platinum Oatmeal stout offers a slight variety of the classic dark beer, but remains easy for any beer drinker to enjoy. The oats don’t impart an oatmeal taste, but rather help make the beer smooth and creamy. Like all well-made stouts, this one has nice roasted coffee and dark chocolate notes. At 4.5% abv, this Gold Medal Winner from last year’s Asia Beer Cup is the perfect beer for any neophyte.
A fantastic summer beer, the White Ale is light and fruity with a pale body and creamy head. This Belgian Witbier is the kind of style that became very popular during the German brewpub boom. Like a hefeweizen, this beer will be familiar to those who like Hoegaarden or Paulaner. Brewed with Valencia orange peel and coriander seed, this award winning beer weighs in at 5.3% abv.
Interestingly, the world’s most popular beer style is missing from Platinum’s line-up. Platinum doesn’t brew the light lager. However, for fans of beers Max, Cass, and Hite, Platinum’s most similar offering is the Korea Drink Awards Grand Prize winning Gold Ale. This beer is made with much better ingredients than those other brands, and will offer a slightly more complex flavors while remaining very clean, crisp, and easy-drinking at 4.8% abv.