Joe Kim loves it when someone comes to one of his Dae Gee Korean BBQ restaurants and truly pigs out. In fact, Dae Gee translates to “pig” in Korean, and “Pig Out” is its unofficial motto. So one of Kim’s favorite customers is Ethan Tsai. “He used to come into our first spot and really pig out,” Kim says.
Back then, Kim had only one location, in Westminster, and Tsai was still an organic chemistry professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Today, however, Kim owns five Dae Gees, with a sixth on the way, and is getting ready to start up a pandemic-inspired food-shipping business, while Tsai has taken his skills and his Ph.D. to Tivoli Brewing, where he is now the director of brewery operations.
Because of that, Tsai started paying more attention to Dae Gee’s beer selections — none of which were from Tivoli — and suggested the idea of brewing something that was specifically designed to be paired with Korean dishes such as kimchi, Dae Gee's beef short ribs and fried chicken.
Kim was on board, and the result of their collaboration, Oink Ale, is already on tap at all five Dae Gee locations. A canned version will make its debut in February, and will be part of Kim’s shipping business.
“We could have just cloned Hite or Cass or another popular Korean lager, but we decided we didn’t want to do that,” Tsai explains. “But we wanted to make something that was still drinkable and something that was familiar” to Korean diners, he adds, so he suggested that Oink Ale be based on a traditional Korean unfiltered rice wine called Makgeolli. “If you look at Korean food, rice is a staple, so why not put that into beer as a driver for flavor?”
The brewers at Tivoli then got together (before the pandemic began) with Kim and his staff for “multiple eating and beer-drinking sessions,” Kim says with a laugh, to try out different food and beer-pairing combinations. The final product, which was brewed at Tivoli’s pilot brewhouse at the Westin at Denver International Airport, was made with rice and Styrian hops and has notes of grapefruit and orange and “a lingering nuttiness,” according to Tivoli.
In January or February, Dae Gee will be featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri; the show has been airing episodes that promote takeout food and will be doing a special episode on restaurants that ship interesting dishes nationwide.
Since Dae Gee plans to get into that new business model, sending packaged products like kimchi and other fermented foods (or even barbecue and fried chicken, which involves flash-freezing and/or shipping food overnight in thermal-lined packages or dry ice), Kim thought it would be good to have a specially branded beer to go with it — which is why Oink Ale will be canned.
“I had always wanted to do something like this,” he says. “And if we can get through this pandemic and get out the other side, I think it will really benefit us in the long run.”
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