Getting Started: Homebrewing in Korea

Living abroad has helped me realize quite a few things I took for granted back in the ol US of A. The plethora of microbrewed beer and my former homebrew shop, Brew Camp, are numbers 2 and 3 on that list (a true hamburger comes in at #1). The glory days of hopping on the L for all of two stops to get anything and everything I could imagine are long gone.

This has left me with the options of overspending on an all-inclusive starter kit for about ₩300,000 ($269) to get some plastic bottles and shotty looking equipment, or creating my very own piecemealed and MacGyver-ed setup for quite a bit less. Aside from saving money on shipping and avoiding ridiculous plastic bottles, the piecemeal route is also an enjoyable way to get to know the kitchen shops in your neighborhood and get a sense of what you'll be able to pick up after the initial supplies are purchased. You won't be able to find everything locally, but there will certainly be enough to make the box of goodies from the interwebs a more afforable size.

Local Equipment

Brew Pot with Strainer
Cost: ₩17,000 pot, ₩4,300 strainer
Size: 24 liters
A 24 liter brew pot is roughly 6 gallons, so it's all you need if you're going to be doing extract or a typical 20L all-grain recipe. However, it would seem Brew In A Bag (commonly referred to as BIAB) is the best option for those of us in Korea due to lack of malt extract supplies and spatial concerns. I would recommend bumping up to a 38 liter brewpot as the price difference is negligible and it will make BIAB much easier. Either size can be found conveniently from street vendors or most kitchen supply places.

Fermenter
Cost: ₩13,000
Luckily Korea is all about fermentation, so finding one of these is the easiest part of getting started. Just about any semi-serious grocery store will have these in droves and quite a few of them have built in air-lock like systems under their cap. Perhaps it's just because I'm a traditionalist, but I've cut a whole into the the lid of my fermenter and placed an airlock in there just to get a better sense of how the batch is doing.



Bottling Bucket/Sanitary Tub
Cost: ₩8,500
While it is possible to use your brewpot as a bottling bucket, I'd much prefer to have a spigot and gravity do most of the work rather than my auto-siphon (at the time of this picture I hadn't cut a whole to add the spigot yet). The bucket does take up a rather large amount of space, but the airtight lid makes it ridiculously easy to keep the inside clean and serves as the perfect place to keep all of your equipment between brew days.



Ice Tub
Cost: ₩5,000
This is solely for filling with ice and chilling the wort down to 20-25°C before pitching your yeast, so it can be used for anything and everything else you may need. This can come in handy as a make-shift cooler to serve homebrews on the roof or any other place you'd like to share real beer with your Korean friends.





Big Spoon
Cost: ₩7,500
Even though this is more of a paddle than a spoon and over-priced by just a wee bit how the hell could I say no to it? It's a giant wood paddle that will scrap the bottom of the brewpot with ease and is flat enough to be stored just about anywhere in the smallest of kitchens. I've left the strainer in the picture to give an idea of how big the spoon should be.





Online Equipment

Although quite a bit can be found locally, there are a few more intricate items that are either easier to find online, or can only be found online. But, as a Mac user I've found damn near every homebrew site in Korea a rather large pain in the ass. Working hand-in-hand with Google Translate I managed to sign up for a few sites, put in my address, and get everything into my shopping cart... then paywalls... that require Windows. So I installed Windows on my Mac. No dice.

If you're more of the Windows type folk, then goodbeer.co.kr may work just fine for you, but I cannot recommend beerschool.co.kr highly enough. They allow me to order everything I need via email and wire money to them through their KB Star bank account so I can avoid using their Windows or Die website. Easy peasy.

Thermometer and Hydrometer
Cost: ₩3,000 thermometer, ₩5,000 hydrometer
Source: beerschool.co.kr
These little lovelies are absolutely crucial to brewing anything and they're dirt cheap. In the past I've used a digital thermometer, and could most likely have found one here just as easily, but this was a whopping ₩3,000 so I just bought it online.





Bottle Caps
Cost: ₩5,000
Source: beerschool.co.kr
This bag of 100 caps should do the trick for at least two 20L batches, or go even further with the BIAB 15L batches I plan on making. Either way, they're cheap and essential to avoid the dreaded plastic bottles so many websites here would like to push on you.





Airlock

Cost: ₩6,500
Source: beerschool.co.kr
As mentioned before, most of the fermenters here will have a built in airlock system, but I kind of like to watch the bubbles in the airlock to ensure everything's going according to plan.

Bottling Wand and Tubing
Cost: ₩3,000
Source: ebay.com
Is this absolutely vital to making beer? Maybe not. Did I overpay for the shipping on this? Oh most definitely. But would you rather bottle with the control in one hand simply by pushing down or turn on and off the spigot from your bottling bucket? This handy and super cheap little devise is well worth whatever shipping price you'll pay as it makes bottling day a breeze.



Auto-Siphon

Cost: ₩17,000
Source: ebay.com
BeerSchool usually has auto-siphons (found here), but at the time I placed my first order they were out and I can't really imagine homebrewing without one of these. Much like the bottling wand it's not technically necessary to brew, but it makes life oh so much easier. Without one of these you're left to suck on the end of a tube to get the transfer flowing. Forgetting how ridiculously unsanitary our human mouths are, it's just a pain in the ass and something that can easily be avoided for under ₩20,000.


With A Little Help From My Friend

If you have a homebrewer friend in the States (or anywhere else that does homebrewing) having them send some items on the list is a great option. Shipping isn't nearly as much as you might expect and they'll be able to pop into their local homebrew shop and get everything in one fell swoop. I was lucky enough to have Mr. MacLeod of MacLeod 9 Brewing send a few items my way.

Bottle Capper
Cost: ₩17,000
This was proving almost impossible for me to find at a decent price anywhere online and is absolutely necessary for using glass bottles. These may be available on Korean sites such as auction.co.kr or gmarket.co.kr, but the easiest option for me was to ask for a little help.





Bottling Spigot
Cost: ₩4,000
If I perused the hardward shops locally I most likely could have found this, but much like the bottle capper the easier option was just to ask a friend to send it over. It's dirt cheap and super light, so shipping really isn't a big cost, especially when combined with other items. I'll be cutting a small hole into my bottling bucket to add this in the coming weeks.






In a much shorter form, here's what you need to get started brewing in Korea:
  1. Brew Pot – ₩17,000
  2. *Strainer – ₩4,300
  3. Fermenter – ₩13,000
  4. Bottling Bucket – ₩8,500
  5. Ice Tub – ₩5,000
  6. Big Spoon – ₩7,500
  7. Thermometer – ₩3,000 
  8. Hydrometer – ₩5,000
  9. Bottle Caps – ₩5,000
  10. *Airlock – ₩6,500
  11. *Bottling Wand – ₩3,000
  12. *Auto-Siphon – ₩17,000
  13. Bottle Capper – ₩17,000
  14. *Bottling Spigot – ₩4,000
*Optional items

Total Cost: ₩115,800 ($103.53)

The total comes down to ₩81,000 if you choose to skip the optional items, but for the ₩35,300 difference I personally think they'll drastically improve your setup and make life easier.


6 comments:

  1. Great post! Very informative and helpful. I hope it proves useful to other expats planning to brew in Korea!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Picking up from the About/Contact chat with Luis (found here: http://brewdaybeer.blogspot.kr/p/aboutcontact.html).

    Here's a post about turning a fishing bucket into a bottling bucket: http://brewdaybeer.blogspot.kr/2013/06/diy-bottling-bucket.html

    Here's a post about Brew In A Bag (BIAB), a very simple way to brew here in Korea: http://brewdaybeer.blogspot.kr/2013/06/brew-in-bag-step-by-step-guide.html

    To answer your other questions, I've been using the sanitizer BeerSchool has available on their site, but am planning on getting iodine at the local pharmacies. Either is affordable and quite easy to get your hands on.

    As far as what tubing to buy, I would recommend 5mm as that will fit with most homebrew equipment.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions. Hope you're able to get up and running homebrewing soon!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Just an update on where to order from, it would seem Seoul Homebrew has quite the operation going with full equipment and grains aplenty. Should be an easier go than BeerSchool.

    http://www.seoulhomebrew.com/

    ReplyDelete
  4. I read your post Which is very good will we your next post
    thermometer and hydrometer

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Ryan,
    I see your location is Okpo. I am there too and am currently bottling some perry but am about 30 bottle caps short and cannot wait for delivery. Do you ny any chance have any?
    Thanks,
    Dan
    flugeldan@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Dan,

      Unfortunately I'm no longer in Okpo, so I can't help with the caps. If you're able to cover the bottles for a bit, Seoul Homebrew usually ships within 24 hours, so they may get em to you before it's a problem.

      Delete

 

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