It’s something of a paradox. Koreans are prepared to put up with some of the most tasteless, characterless beer in the world, but insist on top quality whisky.
For an explanation of the former mystery, the Economist (Fiery Food, Boring Beer – a dull duopoly crushes microbrewers, 24 November 2012) expands on a theme discussed in Groove Korea a year ago (An Answer to Korea’s Bad Beer, 3 October 2011). Tom Coyner separately mentions:
The Craftworks brewer [interviewed by both the Economist and Groove Korea], Park Chul, once simply told me the distributors will not handle independent brewers since the these two giant brewers have been able to lobby the government to restrict small brewers to providing beer only to their own retail outlets. In other words, the smaller brewers are blocked by regulation from distributing their beverages by third parties.
At the other end of the scale, “Korea consumed more top-range whisky aged 17 years or over than any other country in the world last year,” according to a survey by the U.K.’s International Wine and Spirit Research. “It has ranked top for 11 consecutive years.” (The Chosun Ilbo – Koreans Drink Most Top Range Whisky in the World, 14 November 2012)
And the depressing suggestion that links the two items:
Experts attributed the phenomenon to the Korean custom of drinking boilermakers. According to the industry, 80 percent of super-premium whisky is consumed at high-end restaurants or bars. “In the U.S. and Europe, whisky is sold by the glass in bars, and people generally drink just one or two,” an industry insider said. “But here super-premium whisky is consumed in large quantities because people drink lot of whisky shots with their boilermakers.”
Me, I’ll always drink Japanese beer in London Korean restaurants, if I’m not drinking soju. And I’ll save the premium whisky for drinking neat or with a splash of water. But for me, the premium whisky must be single malt.