Ah, Christmas season! The one time of the year when your sloppy weekend binge-drinking can take on a classy appearance just by having a tree and/or Santa hat in the room. Or is that just how I do it? It must have been my mentality this past weekend when I showed up at the upscale Craftworks Taphouse & Bistro for an old-fashioned brew-off.
The crew at Homebrew Korea got with Seoul’s overnight craft-beer landmark to compare the size of their pale ales. The winning entrant would be produced commercially and sold on tap at Craftworks as Bukhansan Pale Ale.
I also can’t tell if this is clever marketing or outsourcing to avoid hiring a full-time brewmaster. Either way, the real winners of this contest were the people who sipped away the afternoon with nary a Cass in sight.
Now, it being a pale ale contest, I didn’t expect too much in the way of innovation. Pale ale is generally like the American pilsner of microbrewing — a safe, reliably similar choice no matter what label is one the bottle. Additionally, the contest rules limited brewers in the variety of ingredients. The three beers in the contest pleasantly surprised me with their diversity.
I’ve attended a few events with the Homebrw crew before, so I wasn’t surprised by the high quality coming out of their club, but it was reassuring to drink something heavy, hoppy, and flavorful a week before Christmas, just like mom used to make.
Number one, brewed by Bill Miller, punched you in the face with hops as soon as it touched your tongue, then left your mouth feeling a bit dry. Like an abused housewife, I kept coming back for more. No wonder I left the place dazed and needing to lie down. Miller said it was meant to be a clone of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, a valiant and noble mission if ever there was one.
Number two, brewed by Gord Sellar, was the most complex of the group. It smelled and tasted like a Christmas fruit basket decorated with flowers. Every sip brought a slightly different aroma and the beer’s character changed greatly as it warmed to room temperature. It was also unfiltered, which I think worked against it in the competition. Early pints were thick with yeast and hops.
Number three, brewed by Matt O’Dwyer, nobly attempted to match the Platonic ideal of a pale ale. It was an extremely drinkable balance of malty sweetness and a floral hop characteristic. This was a beer you could drink all day and never tire of the taste, although it would certainly make your belly feel full.
The winner was chosen by vote, with drinkers split between entries one and three. Homebrew Korea’s club representatives then awarded victory to Bill Miller (number one). I’ve had his stuff before and can say he’s one hell of a brewer.
The only losers are beer lovers, deprived of future encounters with the other two entries. After the way I staggered out of there, maybe that’s a good thing.
If you’re interested in attending future events with Homebrew Korea or Craftworks Taphouse, join them on Facebook, where you can RSVP for events. They are often restricted to members or limited to the first bunch of people to pay for tickets.
You can read a rather frank review of Craftworks Taphouse & Bistro over here. I heartily recommend the chorizo sandwich.