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[Contribution] Koreans, be proud of your beers

Aug. 4, 2023 - 09:49 By Shim Woo-hyun
Ben Verhaert, Oriental Brewery CEO (OB)

By Ben Verhaert

Oriental Brewery CEO

Now is the best season for enjoying a refreshing beer, and Aug. 4 is International Beer Day and I would like to speak for beers today, especially for Korean beers.

As one of the oldest human-produced drinks, the beer has many charm factors which have allowed humankind to enjoy it for so long as 8,000 years.

First of all, beer is inclusive. Men and women across geographies and socioeconomic groups enjoy having a beer with friends. Beer has always been a great equalizer, accessible to all adults. And in fact, it has the highest participation of any alcohol category, meaning more people drink beer every day than any other spirits, wines or alcoholic beverage. Beer is made with ingredients processed naturally, essentially, a handful of very simple ingredients brewed with high-quality water. And that's the magic of beer. Beer is fundamentally local. It is made of local ingredients grown by local farmers. It is brewed locally, and it is often a major part of local communities and economies.

I have been working at beer companies for more than 20 years in many different countries. Beer is my passion. I am from Belgium, the country of beer, the only country in the world, whose beer culture is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage. Belgian people are extremely proud of our beers and beer culture. Beer is part of any celebrations and memorable moments in our lives.

One thing I notice, working and living in Korea for four years is that not many Korean people are aware that Korean beers are as good as other European beers. And Korean beer culture, to me, is as exciting and deep as those of other beer loving countries in the world that I have experienced. I have also noticed that some Korean consumers are quite stingy in praising the quality of domestic beers. There’s no doubt that Koreans love their home-brewed beers. Some 85 percent of the beers consumed in Korea are domestic, and out of the top five bestselling beers in the in-home market, four brands are Korean. But I am surprised to see the surveys show that Korean consumers underestimate the quality of domestic beers, in comparison with import beers.

Koreans know how to bring people together and celebrate the moments with beer. Having a glass of beer after work with colleagues, in the form of "hoesik" (after-work dinners), having a victory beer after weekend mountain climbing with pajeon (Korean pancakes), now world-famous ‘"chimaek" (chicken and beer), adding more fun to beer and being creative with beer, the unique beer cocktail "somaek" (soju and beer), and so on. Like this, a glass of beer is closely linked with the lives of Korean adults.

Another characteristic in Korea's beer culture is how beer is matched with good Korean food. Beer is not served with food all the time necessarily in Europe, but Koreans would enjoy the good taste of a beer along with good food. Korean domestic beers’ refreshing and crispy taste go so well with hot and spicy Korean foods -- grilled pork belly, kimchi jjigae, etc,. Now that "K-food" is getting popular around the globe, I hope more and more people will learn the Korean way of enjoying the perfect combination of the Korean food and Korean beers.

I have experienced different beer cultures in many different countries. And I have witnessed Korean beers have global level quality. For instance, Cass and Hanmac have won the Superior Taste Award many years in a row from the very prestigious International Taste Institute in Belgium. Korean beer makers are also known to be very experimental and ambitious in trying local and high-quality ingredients. For instance, Hand & Malt is much committed to using local ingredients, introducing a series of craft beers using local ingredients like ginger, mandarin and honey from different regions. And we all have enjoyed the highly creative and interesting beers in the market born as the result of the agile innovation and collaboration during the COVID period when dining out was restricted.

In conclusion, I hope Korean consumers have more pride and faith in our Korean beers because I am sure Korean beer culture is one of a kind and the beers are superior.

Happy International Beer Day!

Ben Verhaert is the CEO of Oriental Brewery and president of the East Asia Business Unit at Anheuser-Busch InBev. The views expressed in this column are his own. – Ed.