Drink Classy Korean Beers in this Vibey Hanok
Oh shit, it’s bul geum!! Fire Friday is the weekly holiday where everyone’s off work and tryna turn up for the weekend, and at Hamburo, we’re all about it. To facilitate your debauchery, we’re featuring a drinking spot each week to fit into one of the rounds of your night. Or, you could just grab some green bottles at a convenience store and get slammed in an alley. That’s on you fam.
In the last few years, craft beer has become such a major trend that, in Seoul’s more popular neighborhoods, beer bars and indie breweries have become as common as traditional soju spots. Whereas trendy cafes have long been the way to tell when an area has “made it,” craft beer spots are starting to assume this role. Basically, there’s a shit ton of them, and it can get overwhelming.
Of course, a good beer spot should probably be judged first on the quality of its beer. But if there’s a surplus of spots brewing their own beer, all more or less of the same quality, we need to look at other factors to differentiate. Similar to cafes, a lot of craft beer places’ owners distinguish their bars through interior design, food offerings, and the overall vibe they can create.
Kiwa Taproom [기와탭룸] is the kind of place where you just enjoy being. It takes the common trend of infusing a western-born beer movement with strong Korean nationalistic pride to a dope extreme, starting with the fact that it’s in an old school Korean hanok house. Their logo is a minimal drawing of a guy sipping a beer, sitting on the edge of a traditional Korean-style roof, which perfectly embodies how chill and placid Kiwa’s entire ambiance is.
It seems like Kiwa actually occupies the space between two hanok [한옥] buildings, though I’m not really clear how hanok construction works. The entrance is a cobblestone path, basically a small road, covered by a glass room and flanked by raised platforms with cushions and low tables for very traditional-feeling seating. On one side, the raised platform extends to hold a bunch of tables and chairs, and that’s about it. I think they’ve been working on an expansion, but basically, that’s the main area. There’s a small kitchen, and a tap with their brew offerings.
It’s probably worth talking about Kiwa’s beers now, because we did establish that as the first criteria of a good beer place. Naturally. Kiwa isn’t a brewery, so they don’t make any beers, but their tap is exclusively craft beers, with about half from countries like the US, UK, Belgium, and Chile, and the other half strictly Korean. The Korean beers are generally from heavy hitters in the Korean craft-brewing world, like Gorilla Brewing and Craft Bros. Kiwa excels at curating a variety of really great beers, including seasonal brews and one-offs. These include peach, yuja, and nut brown ales, while some of the foreign beers include sour and trappist ales.
Kiwa’s food options are unexpectedly western, though impressively good and well matched to the beer offerings. Their hummus is actually really on point, and you can add chicken, beef, or shrimp. They also offer a spinach and artichoke dip, as well as mainstays like currywurst (also really good), cheese nachos, and French fries. They recently added salami and marinated tomatoes, which I haven’t tried, but sound pretty banging. If we’re being honest, the food is all pretty expensive, but international ingredients aren’t cheap and hanok expansions don’t pay for themselves.
Like any craft beer bar, this isn’t the place to turn up. As a really fucking chill place in a hanok with romantic/traditional/trendy vibes, this really isn’t the place to turn up. Instead, this is an almost too perfect date spot, or a great place to pre-pre-pregame. Unless you have a lot of money to dispose of, you’re not gonna get drunk here, but while drinking and partying go hand in hand, that’s not all there is to alcohol.
The world needs balance. For every night you blackout through a night of bar hopping or clubbing, there should be a night where quality alcohol is savored with friends in a hanok, or something. Kiwa is the spot for a spontaneous afternoon beer during a walk around Samcheongdong, or a destination to hit for a night when you need an escape. It’s effortlessly cool, modestly serene and has a really good beer selection, too. While Seoul City is filling up with craft beer bars, Kiwa taproom is understatedly special.
Let us know what you think about this spot or what we said about it. For another article like this, check out last week’s Fire Friday feature about a Taiwanese night market-themed bar chain with dirt-cheap anju.
Photo credits: @kiwataproom, @darkromance, @gaesung_mandoo