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How the craft beer and highball scene is growing in South Korea

The South Korean market has seen a surge in craft beers and highballs from underdog breweries and distilleries. 

The nation’s drinks sector, which has historically been dominated by giant local and multinational drinks companies, has according to local reports, seen the change due to the increasing popularity of craft drinks building excitement among Zoomers and Millennials.

Now, a raft of craft beers, highballs and sojus have made their way onto retail shelves and have started turning the Korean brewing and distilling scene into a fierce battlefield between conventional major companies and craft startups.

For instance, this spring, local press highlighted how the Seven Brau Co that is based in Gangwon Province introduced its Daepyo wheat beer to stores and immediately sold 410,000 cans in just one month since launching.

Meanwhile, Kabrew, a craft brewery in the Gyeonggi province, which has become known for its beer named Gyeongbokgung, has gained further kudos after becoming picked as the official beer for a banquet hosted by the Korean presidential office.

As the opportunities have begun to broaden and open up the marketplace, similar set-ups like the brewery startup, 2020company, formed by young entrepreneurs in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, have also begun to strike a chord with younger drinkers looking for new flavours and released a beer created using locally-sourced grain syrup and dried prune.

Alongside the trend for craft beer, the canned highball market in Korea has also seen strong demand and some smaller businesses are taking notice and taking advantage of the opportunities it presents. One example can be seen with local brewery Brewguru teaming up with Korean AI technology startup Upstage to develop a new whisky cocktail drink, called AskUp Lemon Sparkle Highball.

AskUp, which has been made with a ChatGPT-powered Korean chatbot run by Upstage, has helped to develop the drink’s taste and name and was rolled out last month into Korea’s largest convenience store chain GS25, directly appealing to consumer’s interested in AI and also making a product that is both relevant and interesting for next generation consumers.

Brewguru chief executive Park Sang-jae revealed via the Korean Economic Daily that “it took only an hour to develop AskUp Lemon Sparkle Highball after a series of conversations with AI”.

Sang-jae explained that this is exciting for new consumers looking at the range of drinks now available simply because it is “the world’s first AI-made highball” and inferred that South Koreans are becoming more interested in broadening their repertoire.

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