Craftworks Taphouse & Bistro: Spirit of Craft Beer at Work in Our Seoul
Five in the afternoon on January 7th, a Friday in Seoul, and Dan Vroon of Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro is smiling.
My friend and sometime blogger who goes by the online moniker of 'Sperwer' has joined me for an evening of beer and food at the Craftworks Taphouse and Bistro, and we've just told Dan that I maintain a blog and intend to write about the pub's craft beer.
Unfortunately, we've already sampled several stiff pints of draft brew from a nearby eatery and are in therefore less than prime condition for tasting what Craftworks has to offer. Blame Dan. Sperwer and I had shown up at 3:00 p.m., only to find Craftworks not yet open in these early days (it's a new establishment). The affable Dan Vroon had greeted us with warmth and an apology for not yet opening the doors, plus generous directions to his competitor just a few meters down the street, where I indulged in two San Miguels and a Kilkenny, and shared a pizza with Sperwer, who himself drank a Kilkenny or two.
Two hours later, we returned, rather worse for the wear, and settled down at a table where we ordered what proved to be delicious, medium-rare hamburgers dragged through a fresh vegetable garden, spread with thick gorgonzola sauce, and laid between freshly baked buns with a side order of fries, not crisp but tasty, seasoned with tumeric and sea salt. That food further distracted me from my primary objective, sampling the five craft beers on tap.
I was also drawn away from my dissolute aims by the conversation with my erudite friend, Sperwer, who talked with me about world literature, Korean history, and related topics. He's especially interested these days in the ideas of Michael Oakeshott, though I don't believe that this philosopher had anything profound to say about beer, unlike Benjamin Franklin, who's reputed to have said that "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Except that Ben was actually talking about the rain that falls on vineyards and infuses the grapes to make wine possible. That was old Ben's variant on one of the proofs for God's existence, indeed for His beneficence, and Ben's oenological argument has its merits.
But I had intended to talk about beer, not wine! One too many beers will always get a man off topic, which is probably proof that God wants us to think out of the box. Well, I thought outside of several boxes, with the consequence that I didn't give the craft beer quite the attention that it deserved. I therefore needed to visit Craftworks again.
Fortunately, my lovely wife Sun-Ae acquiesced, and agreed to accompany me on a Friday one week later, so we found ourselves at noon on the 14th of January in the Craftworks, greeted by a still-smiling Dan Vroon, who remembered me.
I proceeded to order a chorizo sandwich with fries -- my wife ordered a BLTC with salad -- and I began my beer sampling once again. What follows is a conflation of the tastings from two successive Fridays. Alert readers will notice that four of the beers are named after mountains on the Korean Peninsula, so for your geographical edification, I've linked to information on these mountains, as you will see.
I began with the Namsan Pure Pilsner. A pilsner is a pale lager beer -- the term "lager" refering to the fact that it's bottom-fermented -- and from my seven or eight years in German-speaking parts of Europe, I'd tried a good many pilsner beers, but this one was a surprise. German pilsners are poured slowly but directly into the glass, so they form a thick foamy head, but this pilsner was poured more quickly and in the North American method, the glass tilted to decrease the head. Also, the beer was cloudy and dissimilar to the clear, crisp pilsner beers that I'd had in Germany. Dan explained that Craftworks' pilsners were young because freshly brewed, meaning that the sediment had not yet settled (thereby also explaining a cloudy craft pilsner that I'd had on base at nearby Yongsan about a year earlier). I found the taste slightly bitter, also with a light citric aftertaste -- though my wife noted a sweet aftertaste! We asked Dan about that, and while his taste agreed with mine, he acknowledged that taste is profoundly subjective and depends upon what else one is drinking or eating. Overall, I enjoyed this cloudy Namsan Pure Pilsner . . . though I have to admit to retaining a soft spot for the crisp, clear German style.
In other words, "Gustibus non disputandum est." Taste is not to be disputed.
My second beer was a hefeweizen -- the German wheat beer -- specifically a Baekdusan Hefeweizen. The hefeweizen is typically top-fermented and unfiltered, and I drank a number of them during my first year living in Germany. Before I tried the Baekdusan Hefeweizen, I admitted to Dan, "The hefeweizen isn't my favorite beer. I find them overly sour."
Dan raised his index finger in an obscurely hermetic style, smiled, and headed for the bar. He returned with a hefeweizen that wasn't at all sour. Indeed, it tasted lightly of cloves! And other complex flavors. No cloves were used in the brewing process, so that's just one of those flavors that emerge in a complex beer. Finally, a hefeweizen for me to love.
I next tried the pub's seasonal brew, a Kölsch, what Dan described as a cold-lagered beer. I later learned why he phrased his description so carefully. This beer is typically warm-fermented (13 to 21°C, or 55 to 70°F), then cold-conditioned, i.e., lagered, or so says Wikipedia. The Kölsch derives from the famous beer brewed around Köln, better known as Cologne (though the beer doesn't taste at all like men's perfume), but I don't recall drinking one during my years in Europe. This Craftworks Kölsch was bitter with a floral aftertaste, and it was also strong, with an almost whiskey flavor. That whiskey taste reminded me of a Tiger Beer that I purchased in Singapore about five years ago . . . except that the Tiger Beer was dreadful, whereas this Kölsch was quite good.
After the Kölsch, I sampled a Halla Mountain Golden Ale. An ale is a warm-fermented brew made using malted barley and is fermented using a top-fermenting process with a yeast that works quickly, which usually makes it slightly sweet, but the hops in it balances this with bitterness -- again, I'm indebted to Wikipedia, this time for the explanation about the ale's sweetness. This Craftworks Ale was slightly dark, and reminiscent of an Anchor Steam brew on tap that I used to imbibe in San Francisco back in the mid-1980s, likely one of the ales, though this Craftworks Ale was somewhat milder than the Steam. Or so I recall, but that Steam was over twenty years ago. More specifically . . . this Halla Mountain Golden Ale was not especially hoppy, but slightly sweet with a dry finish. Also slightly bitter, I thought, but my wife thought that it had a lemon-fruit taste . . . citrusy. I asked Dan, who reminded me that brewed flavors are complex, so our taste buds can interact with the brew in various ways.
Once again, "Gustibus non disputandum est."
Finally, I tried the Geumgang Mountain Dark Ale. I had my wife taste a sample, and we both agreed that it reminds us of a Guiness Stout . . . though not nearly so creamy and heavy. It's actually a brown ale, I suppose. Anyway, this Dark Ale had a smooth texture, only slightly bitter. It's a good beer to finish with, after the other four.
I asked Dan about the brewer, Park Chul, whom I mentioned in a previous blog entry, though we've never met, for that blog post was a report on my intention to visit the Craftworks Taphouse after reading about it in Jean Oh's Korea Herald article, "Kapa's microbrews take palate for ride." Ms. Oh notes that Mr. Park uses only fresh spring water for brewing because he believes that "96 percent of beer is water . . . . Good water makes good beer." I'm guessing that this is why the beers are named after mountains, often a source of fresh water.
But more goes into the beer at Craftworks than just water. There's also knowledge and experience. According to Dan, Mr. Park was trained in Germany and began brewing for himself and small gatherings. He started up Kapa Brewery, located in Gapyeong County, in Gyeonggi Province, and his friends encouraged him to expand into selling his brews in a pub. Dan Vroon was apparently one of these friends, and managed to convince him by saying, "You let me set up a pub to sell your beers, and I'll sell them. I have no doubt they'll sell."
Dan is right, and at only 4 to 5 thousand won per pint, they'll definitely sell. You can help out by dropping in for a drink . . . and a meal.
DIRECTIONS: Take the Seoul Subway's Line 6 to Noksapyeong Subway Station, a stop after Itaewon (or before, depending on your direction), and leave the station by Exit 2. You can take the escalator at that exit. As you leave the exit, just continue in a straight line down the sidewalk until you arrive at the underpass (not far before reaching a gate onto the base). Use the underpass to cross the street, and take the exit to your left. Once above ground, you'll find a side street that you have to cross. Use the crosswalk, but wait for the green pedestrian signal, and look both ways for safety's sake (as I've discovered). Continue straight ahead along the main street. You'll pass a restaurant called NOXA on the corner of the side street and the main street. Craftworks will be a bit further down, but not far, and to your right, somewhat hidden from the main street. Watch for the sign.
HOURS: The pub is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays except Monday (when it's closed), and to 3 a.m. weekends.