▲ Five different kinds of beer made from Jeju’s famous underground spring water and baekho barley for the first time during a special tasting session on Sept. 5. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
As an amateur beer connoisseur, I’ve had my ear to the ground since I first heard murmurs that Jeju was working on developing its own authentic beer. On Sept. 5 those claims moved beyond rumors. The Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Development Corporation (JPDC), in conjunction with the Jeju Leading Industry Office, held a special Jeju beer tasting session at the JPDC Mandarin Manufacturing Complex in Hannam-ri, Namwon, Seogwipo City.
The island is currently creating five different varieties of beer, four ales and one lager (with 4.5 percent alcohol and 6.5 percent respectively) at a JPDC and Samdasoo pilot plant which can brew up to 120,000 (500 ml) bottles a year. There are already plans in the works to build a plant over twice that size with an investment of 32 billion won (US$28.7 million) in Yongam Sea Water Industrial Complex, Gujwa, Jeju City.
Last week I spoke with Boris de Mesones, a Spanish resident on the island who owns two Jeju City bars. He is also a part-time professor of brewery science at Jeju National University, and brewmaster on this project.
Over glasses of his award-winning Indian pale ale at his establishment in Jeju City (the aptly named Boris Brewery) he told of his involvement with making beer and teaching brewing on Jeju.
“One year ago a professor came here and sat where you are sitting now,” he said, “and asked if I would like to teach brewing science in a summer course … I said no because I have no time, then he told me he [had] bought the brewing equipment, like a micro brewery.”
De Mesones agreed to examine the set up and said the equipment was made in China and found it had some problems. “I made a list of the faults … and he convinced me to give a summer course for two weeks.”
Just last month de Mesones concluded his second summer course at the university where he taught 26 undergraduate students, five of which will be selected to go to San Diego to study brewery science.
Presently de Mesones has been contracted as a brewmaster for the JPDC and Samdasoo beer project to not only develop the perfect recipe but to also design the equipment and the pilot plant.
He admits he is “very interested” in the project partly due to the recent business history of the drink seeing as large corporations have often bought up smaller breweries and that Jeju’s brewery will be midsized grown from essentially a micro brewery. Also, because of the limitations of brewing on such a small island that lacks the booze infrastructure of other places, Jeju’s beer will have a different characteristic than that brewed on the mainland. One of the reasons for this is the water.
“Samdasoo water is very good for brewing light beers, light colored beers [because the water] is very very soft,” he said.
De Mesones compared Jeju’s underground spring water to that of Pilsen, Czech Republic, famous for creating Pilsner beer. He said the two waters are similar in that they are both very soft and contain small amounts of minerals. The Samdasoo water, in essence, is like a blank canvas for beer brewing. If the water contains certain minerals or acids, the type of beer it can create is limited without the difficult and time consuming process of removing them.
“Maybe it is too good,” he said, “but that is an advantage because we have to treat the water a little bit for different styles” of beer. He continued that to simply change the type and taste of the beer all you have to do is add the desired minerals, which is easier than extracting them from the water.
The Jeju beer, he continued, will be brewed with Samdasoo water, 100 percent Jeju barley, and yeast that is developed on the island. Only the hops will come from abroad, because, as he said, it cannot be grown in Korea due to the climate.
With the project fully underway, the JPDC is deciding on a business plan. It is examining the feasibility of the project and Samdasoo, the manufacturing company, is en route to completing the bottle and label design by March, with plans to have a prototype ready for market by April of next year. There are roughly half a dozen alcohol beverage companies looking to invest in this endeavor and the private companies will be selected through open advertising in November.
As I sat there finishing my glass of beer in Boris Brewery, Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Ark” began to play and we spoke of music for awhile. Boris said that good beer is like good music, you have to have a passion for it. I left the bar glad, and hopeful, that Jeju beer is in his hands.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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