It was a beautiful spring day when my friend Nathan and I hiked to the top of Seoul's crown jewel, Namsan. I had arrived in Korea from Thailand, anxious to bag some (low) peaks and enjoy a decent pint of craft beer. Fortunately there are a couple breweries near Namsan's base - a perfect excuse to launch Beers at the Bottom: International Edition.
We began in Namsan Park, an enormous green space conveniently located near Seoul Station in the center of the city. Walking through the park is an experience in itself. Korean men in business suits, women in brightly colored clothing, locals working out at public outdoor gyms. Koreans take recreation seriously, many of them covered from head to toe in flashy, expensive outdoor gear. Just like home.
Climbing Namsan is more of an exercise in stair-stepping than hiking. There are multiple well-signed routes to the top. We chose the nearest one and were on our way up the stairs, stopping at a few viewpoints along the way. Our destination was the N Seoul Tower, an observation tower perched atop the mountain. Over one hundred feet taller than Seattle's Space Needle, the N Seoul Tower tops out at 1,574 feet above sea level. From there, one can enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of the city.
Arriving at the tower's base, I was surprised by the sheer number of visitors. Of course, it was a stunning spring Saturday in Seoul. That, and non-hikers can access the mountaintop by cable car. In Pacific Northwest terms it's like Vancouver's Grouse Grind with a Space Needle on top, but with less mountain and more tower. Does that make sense?
Nathan and I stopped for the obligatory photo-op at Namsan's famous "love locks" site. Countless padlocks decorate the rails near the base of N Seoul Tower, placed by couples as symbols of their undying love. A worthy pilgrimage for Seoulmates everywhere.
After ascending the tower and enjoying the view, it was time for a drink. We walked down to Seoul's Itaewon district in search of Craftworks Taproom. Finding the place turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. Rounding a corner, we encountered dozens of happy imbibers overflowing into the street, plastic beer cups in hand.
This must be it, we thought.
But it wasn't. We'd stumbled upon Magpie Brewing, a happening little place with no seating in sight. Unfortunately for Magpie (and for us) we'd been on our feet for too long and just wanted to sit down. Around the next corner we found Craftworks, also busy but with plenty of chairs available. Perfect.
Korea is not well-known for its craft beer. This is generally true for east Asia as a whole, with few exceptions (Japan's craft beer scene is steadily on the rise). Frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect and my expectations were set pretty low. I was in for a pleasant surprise.
Craftworks proudly brews with spring-fed water, claiming "our brews are the only ones in the peninsula not made from tap water." Maybe, like Olympia Beer, it's the water. Maybe it's because I hadn't enjoyed a craft beer in over a month, or because I'd spent the last several hours hiking, or a combination of all these possibilities. Whatever the case, Craftworks' Mountain Dark Ale tasted like the best damn beer I'd ever had.
It was a mild nut-brown ale, the quintessential spring seasonal. Nathan and I each ordered one and cheerfully sipped away, chatting about how nice it was to drink a good beer again. We chased it with an Imperial Porter of some sort - so sweet and strong that I completely forgot to take tasting notes. Oops.
I was less impressed with the food. We ordered "Nachos Grande" to share. It was tiny for the price ($12, or $15 with guacamole) and didn't leave me feeling satisfied. Of course, ordering anything with cheese in Korea is a gamble. As a Washingtonian I am accustomed to real cheese from happy cows. It's not you, Craftworks, it's me.
Overall we had a positive experience at Craftworks and I would happily return for the beer. We never made it to Magpie, but judging by the crowd they're doing something right. Korea may not be well-known for its craft beer scene just yet, but supply will grow with demand. In ten years Craftworks and Magpie could be vets, pioneers in a sea of Korean craft breweries. Until then, Seoul-long!
For more info on Seoul craft beer, check out this post by our friends The Roaming Pint.
*All photos (except the first) courtesy of Nathan Anderson. Read Nathan's account of our Seoul adventure on his blog, The Open Road Before Me.