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Summertime and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and beer is cold

With taste buds changing, beer companies are constantly creating new brands.

June 15,2007
The history of Korean beer, much like the tale of Coke and Pepsi in the United States, is the story of two corporations and their intense rivalry. Since the 1930s and 40s OB (short for Oriental Brewery) and Hite have been neck and neck ― only back then they were called the Joseon Beer Company (Hite) and the Oriental Beer Company (OB). The Joseon Beer Company, founded in 1933, was Korea’s first beer company.
It has been a close race but recently Hite has been in the lead, securing 64.2 percent of total sales during April of this year. The company, however, hasn’t always been the forerunner. During its Joseon Beer years, it had to sit back and watch the Oriental Beer Company dominate the number one position for almost 40 years. Hite first claimed the number one spot in 1996 ― that was three years after the company made the bold decision to throw out its signature Crown beer and make Hite. Unsurprisingly, the company celebrated by changing its name to Hite.
Oriental Beer Company on the other hand, decided to launch Cass, a beer that boasts a crisp, carbonated taste aimed at the younger generation. The brand is now a steady favorite.
During the last couple of years, the key words for this ongoing rivalry seems to be smooth vs. strong. Hite released Max last fall, the first Korean beer that used 100 percent barley instead of the usual barley and corn starch mixture. The brand, marketed as “a tasty beer to complement food,” is doing extremely well, as the deep barley flavor has won many devoted fans. In tune with the public’s demand for smoother, lighter beer, Hite’s Stout, Korea’s one and only dark beer, switched from its initially high alcohol content of 7 percent to 4.5 per cent after a poor reaction from the public. OB’s Cass Ice Light is another example of this trend as the light beer contains half the carbohydrates of Cass and it is part of the company’s attempt to solve the “I get too full if I drink beer” reaction from consumers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Cass Red, released this March, with an alcohol content of 6.9 percent. Within two months of its release, it sold over 22.4 million bottles and is still holding its position. The company said that the beer was designed to satisfy hardcore beer lovers, who do not like to be too full while drinking light beer with a low alcohol content.
With the taste buds of the public changing rapidly, the two companies are hard at work creating new brands of beer almost every year. As for our part in all this, there is nothing to do but to enjoy the selection and drink away!

Cass (OB Corporation)
In the 1990s, Cass was synonymous with youth and vigor because of its crisp taste. Even compared to other offerings under the Cass label, including Cass Red and Ice Light, the original, with a sharp, clean aftertaste, outdoes all other local beer by having the most bite. It is one of the strongest sellers in Korea.
Alcohol Content: 4.5 percent
Cafri (OB Corporation)
With its sleek design and lemony flavor, Cafri is a fresh, elegant summer beer for ladies. In fact, when it was launched, it was marketed heavily as a beer for women. It is almost like the salad of beers, without the nutty flavor of barley. It has a crystal-like lightness and a zingy, citrus aftertaste.
Alcohol Content: 4.2 percent
Hite (Hite Corporation)
The signature brand of Hite beer, this original has the most balanced taste ― not too fragrant nor too smoot or crispy.
It is known as a standard beer.
It is the plain Jane among domestic beer varieties. Those who prefer the more distinctive taste of dark beer might find this offering to be a bit bland.
Alcohol Content: 4.5 percent Max (Hite Corporation)
The most recent addition to Hite’s range, this is wildly popular, with its sales going up on an average of 11 to 13 percent monthly. It is the only Korean beer which uses 100 percent barley and has a strong aroma and taste based on this ingredient. A smooth tasting brew, it goes well with food.
Alcohol Content: 4.5 percent
OB Blue (OB Corporation)
This brew is matured and fermented at a low temperature and has a smooth but rich flavor. Although not as pungent as Max, OB Blue is a good choice for those of you looking for a flavorful yet light beer. OB Blue’s aftertaste lingers for a long time but it is not as strong as the aftertaste of Cass Red.
Alcohol Content: 4.4 percent
Cass Ice Light (OB Corporation)
This is Cass’s “light” version, with 50 percent less carbohydrates than the original version. This brew tastes watery and flat, without any layers of taste. However, it is easy on the stomach. Amazingly, even after three full cans, my stomach didn’t feel like it was going to explode.
Alcohol Content: 4.2 percent Stout (Hite Corporation)
As the only dark beer in Korea, Stout has merit as a quality beer that costs less than imported dark beers such as Guinness or Beck’s Dark. Stout is lighter than Guinness in both alcohol content and taste, but still has a full bouquet of flavor while being smooth in texture.
Alcohol Content: 4.5 percent
Cass Red (OB Corporation)
Cass Red has the highest alcohol content among domestic brands. The company said that this brew was made for those who get too full when drinking regular beer. Cass Red has a crisp texture and a distinct aftertaste, akin to cherries. This brew reminded me of Dr. Pepper.
Alcohol Content: 6.9 percent

By Cho Jae-eun Staff Writer [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]


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