Date: April 19, 2014
Location: COEX Mall Exhibition center
Subway stop: Samseung, line #2, South of the Han
Saturday April 19th: I met up with some friends and headed to the COEX mall for the wine and spirits expo. This was my first year, but I liked the idea of getting samples of wine, beer, and spirits, so I made sure to pre-register by the deadline, which was April 5th. Once we made our way to exhibition Hall ‘C’ we paid for our entrance (17,000W), and pre-registration meant we also got a wine glass to do our sampling. A new rule for this year was that there are no re-entrances, so if we left the hall, we wouldn’t be able to get back in. Opening hours were 10-5, and we got there about noon.
Once inside, we could walk around the various wine, beer, or spirits booths and receive samples of what they had available. The expo had already been going on for a couple days, mostly for buyers and sellers inside the beer, wine, and spirits industry. Saturday was the one day open for the general public. Generally, wines were in one area, beer in another, spirits were set together and there were some random scattering about of other things.
We figured it would be best to start with the wine. It was fun to be able to try some different wines that I had not had for a couple years, and also try some beers that might be coming into the Korean market.
The wine section of the expo was divided between regions, such as Spain, Chile, Italy and Australia. There were anywhere between 4 and 8 small booths with 1 or 2 representatives from the winery pouring samples.
I was most excited to see Australia there, although apparently I had shown up a bit too late to try any Shiraz they had available. A highlight for me was getting to chat with a couple guys from Spain and South America, including a guy that had spent a year in Houston. I think they enjoyed talking with someone they could speak to in English that had at least some experience with wine.
Part of the expo was marketed as the Seoul World Beer Festival. It was a large rectangle area with between 15 and 20 beer exhibitors displaying what they had to offer. There was a heavy predominance of lighter, lager style beers, but there were also some IPA styles, including 7Brau. There were even a few ‘darker’ beers that could be sampled. Some extra booths were outside the festival area, some beers from Anderson Valley, and Lost Coast Brewing. Kona Brewing, was there and had their coconut porter to sample. It was great because it’s rare to have many seasonal beers make their way across the Pacific. My favorite was getting to try a local Korean craft brew that had a quality dark beer. Unfortunately I forget the name, as I only knew enough Korean to read the word ‘dark’ on their menu board. I found it a little funny that there seemed to be no sign of ‘Craftworks’ brewery at the expo. Although I am not a huge fan myself, I know they are generally a heavy hitter for craft beer on the Korean Peninsula.
Other Beer/Breweries in attendance included Carlsberg, North Coast, Lindeman’s Lambic beers, Whistler (from CA), several kinds of ciders, and a selection of random German beers. There was also a booth there that had on display (but NOT sampling) at least 3 true trappist ales, including Rochefort, Orval, and Westmalle. I imagine these were too expensive to sample, but maybe is this an indication that these beers are possibly coming to the market? (Bonny’s Pizza, I hope you’re reading this…)
The Spirits part of the expo was located right next to the beer ‘festival.’ There were a couple vodka companies giving little sample shots, and had a couple models there in Russian fur hats and short dresses for the locals to take photos with.
I saw an older Korean woman actually tried to walk off with the un-opened bottle of vodka they were using for their photo set. Hilarious!
There were a couple German liquor companies, one of which had a great honey-bourbon liquor that will be worth trying to find at the bars around Itaewon, and another had a sample of Wertzel-Peter a softer version of Jaeger, that they added some energy drink to create a ‘bomb.’ Very tastey!
Outside the spirits section was a company that was displaying and pouring its organic single malt scotch (from Scotland!). I didn’t recognize the name, but I sure recognized the aroma and flavour!
Also exciting were the booths of Sake and various other Asian styles of alcohols. Not having an experienced palate for sake, I thought it was nice to be able to try a couple available. Spoiler alert: sweet potato sake doesn’t taste at all like sweet potato.
Interesting note: I don’t remember seeing any of the usual Soju companies on display. For whatever reason, I found the sake guys more genuinely interested in showing us their product.
There were various other booths, including a booth that I’m pretty sure was selling ‘do it yourself’ mini-beer-brewers. They looked a lot like larger than average rice cookers that could hold a couple gallons and had a plastic spout at the top.
Before the festival finished at 5, the beer area had turned into a hang out area, especially for the foreigners that were there. Some of the booths were even selling some of their stuff, so I happily bought a bottle of Rasputin (Russian Imperial Stout). Many of the wine vendors had run out of the wines they were sampling, and so had already packed up and had left. As my friend and I were making our way out of the expo, we had a Korean man that really wanted to show us the best booth at the expo. He walked us up and down a couple aisles and led us to a wine booth for a winery from Israel. We had actually already been there, but were happy that a local buyer would be interested and kind enough to want to share his favorite.
All in all, it was a fun time and an interesting experience. To be honest, I will say I was a little disappointed in the variety available of wines to try. I only tried a couple of whites, there were not many to choose from, and almost every red there was a Cabernet Sauvignon. I remember seeing only one Merlot, and then plenty of Tempranillo. I find that rather funny, because wine is not yet a huge thing in Korea, and most things in Korea are quite sweet. Why have dry wines to show off when most the populace would probably prefer otherwise? In fact, while I was at several booths, I saw plenty of expo-goers show up to a booth, stick their wine glasses out, and ask “sweet?”
(I remember working at events like this and that was the most annoying part of the gig….)
I am not saying that Cabernet or dryer wines should be excluded to sell the sweet stuff and tell everyone that they’re wine experts as they quaff a glass of white zin. I just think that it’s funny how the wines available to sample were not ones that might seem to interest the general public. It made sense that most beers were on the lighter, lager style, as that’s what most Korean beers are, and that’s what most folk drink. Fortunately, there is enough change happening in the beer market that there is some good variety if you know where to look.
So ended a fun Saturday excursion. Should I be around next year, I’ll look for it again, but I’ll probably try to get there a bit earlier for a better chance at the Shiraz. Oh, and I’ll be sure to pack a lunch.
by Clif Wigington
I’m Clif. I’m no expert on beer or wine, I just like to drink ‘em and I used to sell the stuff.