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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Microbrewery – Jango

 

By Robert Landon,  May 18th, 2014

 

Who’da thunk it?  All of a sudden there’s real beer in Ulsan!

 

The latest addition to the list of watering holes is in Seongnam-Dong.  Jango Micro-brewery – just across the street (Jungang Gil, 중앙길) from Sarojin or Tool Box  – depending on your point of reference – and up the stairs on the 2nd level.  It’s a bright, airy place, with exposed brick and wood décor, and a relaxed, modern, almost café-like feel to it.  It’s run by two brothers from Ulsan, Hyo Bin Jang and Young Bin Jang, who after tasting the wonders of micro-brewed beer on a trip to Seoul, decided to get out of the hagwon business, and ride the wave of craft beer sweeping the country.

Jango1Jango2

The evening we visited saw a mix of Weigukin and Korean customers, young and old, with a relaxed low-key atmosphere.  If there was background music, it was unobtrusive.  The beer menu ranges from a variety of imports (Hoegaarden, Guinness, Erdinger Dunkel, Erdinger Weisbier, Sculpin IPA, Big Eye IPA, and Indica IPA)  to 6 domestic craft brewed beers, stripped down to single word descriptions.  Full disclosure, the latter are brewed, not in Ulsan, but in Gyeonggi-Do, and delivered a couple of times a week, thus Jango serves microbrewed beers, rather than being a microbrewery.  The distinction is significant, especially for purists, but Konglish has given us worse, so if you feel a quibble coming on, remember to taste the beer first, and then set it aside.

The craft beers are what got me through the door, so I will stick to these.  You can buy in 335 ml (W3,800-4,500) or 455ml sizes (W5,000-6,000) – oh how I long for “pints” – or get a 4 glass sampler (W10,500) – for which you’ll have to decide which two to exclude.  Fortunately, while these beers may have lots of character, they don’t have feelings.

Here are the options:

Brown (Pilsner, 4.5% alc).  A nice, well rounded, slightly fruity lager beer that could easily slip incognito behind a European pilsner.  The hops aftertaste is definitely present, but not overpowering.  If you are unsure about where to start, I’d recommend this one first.

White (Weizen, 4.5% alc).  Weiss beer is a particular favorite of mine, especially with summer on the way, and this one didn’t disappoint.  The light yeastiness mellowed the orangey, hoppy flavours to perfection.  For some the yeast flavor is a little off-putting, but I encourage you to stick with it. In beer terms, this really is a “peaches and cream” experience.

Gold (Golden Ale, 4.5% alc).  Dialed down in hops, this allowed the warmer, malty flavors to be fully appreciated.  It reminded me very much of good Light Mild ale, which is not to damn it with faint praise.  My old pub landlord would drink nothing but.  If you are new to ales generally, or have a problem with some of the harsh hop flavours in the edgier brews, I would happily recommend this one.

Dark (Dark Ale, 4.5% alc).  Certainly the most ambitious of the brews on offer.  As a confirmed Guinness drinker, I’m bound to give this one a tough time.  Certainly it was full flavoured, with a mellow, creamy chocolate, but slightly burnt flavour, which went down smoothly enough.  However I think I’d struggle to drink more than one, it being closer to a Mackeson’s than a Guinness.  In other words, an ice cream sundae may be a wonderful thing, as all the sweetness and caramel overpowers you – but I don’t think I’ve EVER seen anyone follow it with a second.  Tasty and certainly worth a try, but Guinness has yet to be beaten!

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Ruddy (Pale Ale, 4.5% alc).  Sadly there has to be low point in the review, and here it is.  Part of it may be my personal bias, but to my taste buds there are some beers that just go a stretch too far in the “distinctive” hops department, and I would put the Ruddy among them.  Since there are folks who enjoy this style, I’ll refrain from being too critical, as the malt flavour puts up a decent fight on your tongue early on, so this isn’t necessarily a bad version, but wait a mere second and man those bitter hops hit you hard.  That’s great, if it’s what you seek.  However if you are new to craft beers, I’d leave this one out, at least until you’ve had more practice.

Red (IPA, 6.3% alc- maybe).  This IPA was better balanced than the Ruddy, being less hoppy, but also with a warm, nutty slightly sweet flavour.  At one point I almost thought I was drinking a Scotch Ale, rather than IPA; not an unwelcome illusion.  Overall if you started with the Gold, and wanted to move up the ‘hoppiness’ scale, this is the one I’d recommend next.

A minor point is the stated alcohol content is a steep 6.5%, something I’d expect to be able to taste.  While the taste wasn’t weak, it really didn’t seem to have enough kick for that amount of alcohol.

Up to now I’ve focused on the beer, which is how I’ll leave it.  However I should mention there is a short snack food menu (which – oops – I forgot to photograph), with some interesting twists.  One in particular worth mentioning is the gorgonzola pizza, which defies expectations as a puff pastry base, with (gorgonzola!) cheese topping, and a honey dipping sauce.  I was busy with the beers and didn’t get much of a look in as my companions joyfully (and rapidly) scarfed it down.  If it’s any help, they seemed well satisfied.

Overall, I was impressed by the strength of flavours on offer.  None of the beers were dumbed down, despite the Jang brothers’ hope to appeal to both novices and seasoned drinkers alike.  Each one had an upfront and very distinct character.  Not all were to my taste, the Ruddy in particular, but that’s no surprise, given the range on offer.   If you choose to visit I’m sure you’ll find one or more of these beers to your liking – and more important, you’ll be part of that wave that we are all hoping will carry Korean beer forward, …. onward and upward.

 

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