Beer in South Korea

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Beer in South Korea
Korean beer and takju-01.jpg
South Korean beer on display for sale in July 2008
Korean name
Hangul 맥주
Revised Romanization maekju
McCune–Reischauer maekchu

Beer was first introduced to Korea in the early 20th century. Seoul's first beer brewery opened in 1908.[1] Two current major breweries date back to the 1920s. The third brewery established in Korea, Jinro Coors Brewery, was founded in the 1990s, but was later acquired by Oriental Breweries (OB).[2]

The South Korean beer market is currently dominated by two major manufacturers, Hite-Jinro and OB, with several brands being sold in the local market. Most restaurants and bars in Korea only have one of these beer brands on tap, as they are largely regarded to be similar in taste and price (they are mostly brewed from rice). Imported beers are largely available in Korea but are generally expensive - usually costing at least 8,000 and as much as ₩15,000 for a pint of Guinness in bars in downtown Seoul, while local brands usually cost around ₩3,000. Recently, microbreweries have started sprouting up throughout the country, and this area of the market is showing increasing signs of sophistication. Of Korea's mass-produced beers, only two are brewed from 100% barley malt, which are Max (Hite) and OB Golden Lager.

The lack of microbreweries in the South Korean market has been due to the onerous government regulations that have constrained small-size brewers from supplying beer to locations under their ownership. These laws were eventually relaxed in June 2011, allowing several small players a toehold in the local beer market.[3]

A growing trend in South Korea is home brewing. While ingredients and supplies are still limited, there are many households brewing their own beer. Various brewing clubs are also available to help guide newcomers through the processes of home brewing in South Korea, one such club being Homebrew Korea.[4]

Domestic brands[edit]


Former products[edit]

  • OB, OB Lager, OB Blue : Predecessors of OB Golden Lager
  • OB Super Dry
  • Crown, Crown Super Dry : Hite(formerly Chosun Brewery)'s main product until the early 1990s
  • Hite Prime : Succeeded by Max
  • Hite Exfeel : Succeeded by S
  • ARK: The first craft bottle beer by Korea Craft Brewery


Beer Supplied in Korea (2011)[5]
Local Products Imported Products Total
Billion won (KRW)
Imports of Beer in Korea (2012)[5]
Country Value
(Million dollar)
Share (%)
Japan 26.4 n/a
Netherlands 9.9 n/a
United States 6.5 n/a
Ireland 6.5 n/a
China n/a n/a
Germany 5.8 n/a
Mexico n/a n/a
Belgium 2.1 n/a


The Economist magazine published an article criticizing South Korean beers to be as boring or worse than North Korea's Taedonggang Beer, which is manufactured with technology imported from Britain. The magazine claimed "some South Korean beers skimp on barley malt, using the likes of rice in its place or others are full of corn." The article further described the problem as a result of the national market being a cramped duopoly, Hite-Jinro and Oriental Brewery (OB), that prevented micro breweries from entering the market.[6] South Korean beer companies denied the allegations, saying that "most (South) Korean beers contain more than 70 percent malt, and some including Hite Max of Hite and OB Golden Lager of OB contain 100 percent malt. Rice and corn are not cheaper than malt, and these grains are used in the mixture to generate a mild taste." Despite the negative reactions from the South Korean breweries, many local beer drinkers are still dissatisfied with the taste of local beer brands.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Seoul City Guide. Lonely Planet. 2009. 
  2. ^ "Interbrew and Oriental Brewery signed the final agreement to purchase Jinro Coors in South-Korea". Anheuser-Busch InBev. November 4, 1999. 
  3. ^ ""House beer"...Quality Competition Fiercely Allowed". Korean Broadcasting System. August 18, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Homebrew Korea". 
  5. ^ a b "Beer, Korea - Republic of". U.S. Agricultural Trade Office, USDA Foreign Agriculture Service. February 7, 2013.  GAIN Report Number:KS1312
  6. ^ "Brewing in South Korea: Fiery food, boring beer, A dull duopoly crushes microbrewers". The Economist. November 24, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Criticism of S.Korean beer". The Dong-a Ilbo. November 29, 2012.