By Kim Jae-won
Korean grocery store shelves are now stacked with American beer, one of the most visible changes brought upon by the Korea-U.S. Fair Trade Agreement.
Microbrews like Great White and Indica, previously available only at bars in trendy leisure districts, are now easily bought at discount chains E-mart and Home plus.
Importers said they decided to sell these products at those stores to make them more available to consumers and the free trade deal pulling down the prices also factored into their decision.
''We are happy that we have found a way to introduce our products to consumers more easily. There is a market for premium U.S. beers as the appetite for beer begins to differentiate and an increasing number of consumers are looking for something better than watery Korean brands,'' said Byeong Jin-yong, a manager from Brewer Masters International, which imports 23 different craft beers from the U.S.
She said the company is proud of spreading "high-end" beer culture here, where local lager has dominated for decades.
"Lager is based on being cool and its freshness, while U.S. ales are more focused on taste. They have more abundant taste as they use about five to 10 times the hops compared with local lagers," said Byeon.
Consumers have welcomed the expanded choice, in particular, American expats.
"Wow, I was almost crying to see U.S. beers in a Home plus outlet in my neighborhood. I thought it was maybe thanks to the Korea-U.S. FTA, though I was not a big fan of the trade pact," said a Boston-born office worker who has lived in Korean for the last four years, declining to be identified further.
As premium import beers gain more popularity here, local firms are also rushing to import them. Oriental Brewery, a local beer company, said earlier this month that it started to sell Stella Artois at Home plus from Jan. 15 to expand its presence here.
It was only previously available here at bars and restaurants. Stella Artois is a premium Belgian lager which claims a 600-hundred year history and is sold in more than 80 countries.