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Korean brewery in Oakland encourages diversity in craft beer industry

Korean-heritage beer maker in Oakland encourages diversity among craft brewers
Korean-heritage beer maker in Oakland encourages diversity among craft brewers 03:01

OAKLAND - The popularity of craft beer has risen exponentially over the last decade, with different backgrounds and ethnic flavors finding their ways into craft beef like never before. One brewery in the East Bay is taking its recent success to another level, and is now opening new doors for others to enter.

It's day 1 of a weeks-long process making Dokkabier's milk stout with a hint of Cardamom and green peppercorn.

Youngwon Lee is one of the new faces of California's expanding craft beer industry.

"I felt like being authentic to my heritage and culture we could bring something different to the market," said Lee.

That includes one of the brewery's best sellers, a "Kimchi Sour".

"We added a little bit of chili oil and ginger. It's tart refreshing and you get a little heat when you drink the whole can," said Lee.

The Brewers Association, which represents thousands of breweries nationwide, says only about 2 percent of owners are Asian. But with new players come creative recipes in an art form thousands of years old.

Tom Regalia is Dokkaebier's talented brewmaster.

"Turning the malts into sugars and boiling it with hops and other things sometimes," said Regalia.

Their brews are gathering steam but the road to building a budding brand began with a hard turn.

The 34-year-old Berkeley drop out packed his Prius, driving hundreds of miles a day after launching his small business one month before COVID lockdowns.

"It was pretty tough. I had to drive around door-to-door home deliveries every day," said Lee.

Instead of unraveling though, all that hard work is paying off. Robust sales have pulled in new investors, opening an opportunity to acquire Federation Brewing, and its taproom in Oakland's Jack London Square.

Until a month ago, Dokkaebier had been contracting with facilities to brew.

"We were only able to make it because there were brewers supporting us to make that happen," said Lee.

Lee's new home will allow his crew to experiment with more flavors, and seasonal beers. It's also providing space to brew for the only black owned Oakland brewery, Hella Coastal, and a chance for the fledgling brand to evolve into something bigger.

"We want to claim a stake in Oakland and have something by Oakland and for Oakland," said Hella Coastal owner Chaz Hubbard.

"If I can provide any help for new breweries to start their own brand I would love to support that," said Lee.

Diversifying the craft beer industry has been slow. Less than 1 percent of breweries nationwide are black owned according to The Brewers Association, but growing partnerships are challenging the status quo.

"As minorities in the industry to have an Asian owned brewery and a black owned brewery in the same building is really dope, especially for Oakland," said Hubbard.

As for the name Dokkaebier, Lee's wife and culture get the credit.

"There's a Korean mythical creature called Dok-eh-bee which likes to eat drink and hang out with people," said Lee.

But there's no myth, that Lee's creation, is producing plenty of pints, with much more to come. Dokkaebier is now selling in nearly 500 stores, including Whole Foods.

In California, craft breweries contributed more than $9 billion to the state's economy. There are more than 1,100 craft breweries in operation across the state, more than anywhere else in the nation.

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