This Spot Sells and Makes Quality Craft Brews
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.
At Hamburo, we really, really love soju. Even if it’s not your liquor of choice – well, if you’re in Korea, you should probably work on that – there’s not a lot you can say bad about it. It’s ridiculously cheap, it’s strong but not too strong, it can get a stain out of a shirt in a bind (try it, I’m not playing). Korean beer, on the other hand, is, well… bad.
Cass, Hite, OB, they’re all pretty weak business. Most Koreans are quick to admit their national brews fall short of the mark. Even Kloud, which was supposed to fix this problem and honestly is better than the others, could use some work.
Look, nothing positive comes from unbalanced criticism. The fact is, these beers are actually really good for what they’re intended for: somaek [소맥]. They pair really well with soju because they’re very light and heavily carbonated, which balances out the slight sweetness and sharp bite of a green bottle. But for a long time, if you were looking for a complex, or even just competent brew with character to sip on its own, you were looking at the imports.
As I mentioned, a lot of Koreans have been disappointed by their country’s national industrial brews. Perhaps this disappointment is what’s fueled the recent boom in Korean craft beer, the likes of which rival any other major city. A lot of independent brewers are making not only high quality beers, but interesting and creative ones. One of the best places to sample what Korean brewers are up to these days is Pongdang Craft Beer Co. [퐁당 크래프트 비어] in Sinsadong [신사동].
Pongdang is a pretty large second-story spot with long beer-hall tables, booths, and bar seating that lines the white brick walls. Rows of thin windows let you look out on the bustling streets that line Garosugil as you sip your craft pint (or bottle, tulip, chalice, whatever).
Other than a few arcade games and a shelf on the ceiling holding hundreds of different beer bottles, the interior here is sparse. This is because, on their end, the focus is 100% on the beer. On your end, weekend nights can see this place packed, meaning if you and your people don’t secure a chunk of bar or table space, you’re standing and drinking.
The beer menu is a large magnet board behind the bar where they post up pieces of paper listing the name of a beer, where it’s from (international or Korean), the type, the size, ABV, and IBU (international bitterness units). These sheets of paper are orange, but above on yellow paper are their own house beers. Generally they have 3 or 4 available, with some being one-offs and some seasonal or signature series.
The international beers they offer are generally really good, and the same companies you’d expect to find at a bougie spot in New York: Founders, Firestone, Sixpoint, etc. The Korean offerings, it should be noted, are not at all limited to their own brews and instead rotate out a quality selection of fellow Korean craft beers from companies like Magpie and Galmegi. These are some really banging beers.
The first couple of times, though, it’s definitely worth trying what they make onsite. In addition to generally being cheaper, Pongdang’s own beers can be crazy. I’ve seen a melon bread flavored wheat ale, a coffee porter, and a Jeju tangerine flavored Gose, in addition to more standard offerings like IPAs, Weisse beers and German Pilsners. Basically, it’s hard to go wrong at Pongdang. The bartenders almost certainly know more about beer than you, and they’re happy to tell you about the brews to help you choose (though it helps if you speak Korean).
In a bigger sense, what’s dope about Pongdang is that it demonstrates an acceptance of an international trend with a refusal to sacrifice Korean values and tastes. Craft beer is a big thing in pretty much any city around the world right now, and while Korea doesn’t have a long history of beer brewing, Pongdang masters craft beers but puts a distinctively Korean twist on almost all of them. Many other Korean craft breweries do the same, and Pongdang seems happy to showcase that in addition to their own beers. And, yeah, if you want something brewed out of Brooklyn, they probably have that too.
On the bottom of the menu board, in blue, are food items and specials. Generally there’s a happy hour deal and a discount if you buy bottles to go. The food menu is largely dominated by skewers [꼬치], which is definitely not a complaint. They also have sliders, a couple of salad options, and lighter finger foods like a cheese plate, jerky, and nuts.
As far as the long-term trajectory of your night, this probably isn’t the spot to go to get fucked up. The beers are all on the pricier side (between 7-9k), not necessarily bad for craft beers but still, craft beer prices are craft beer prices. Instead, I’d recommend this as a first spot or a transition between dinner and the real party. Definitely worth stopping in to have a real quality beer or two with friends, mellow out, and then get lit elsewhere.
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 an old school supermarket-themed bar chain with dirt-cheap anju.
Photo credits: pongdangsplash.com, @rememberpponi, @i.m.miri, @heidi_hj_k