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Beer Reviews

Kelly Beer, HiteJinro, 5% ABV | 하이트진로 켈리 맥주


In Korea's clash of titans, Kelly is perhaps the newest entrant to the arena - a very Danish focused contender from giants HiteJinro, who had hoped to replicate its success from the Terra brand just four years earlier.

If you're new to the Korean beer scene - let me just say that it's probably more exciting than any K-drama (Korean soap opera) out there. The field has seen many changes, as the local government has over the past two decades relaxed beer production laws that have opened up a breeding ground for local craft beer makers to enter - and you've got to give it to these scrappy folks, they've done a damn fine job of making some really good beers. Now combine that with the ever charging onslaught of foreign beers, craft and commercial, that come ready-packed with the shimmery glimmer of being foreign and viewed locally as therefore likely better quality.


HiteJinro's mega brewery in Gangwon.


This leaves the two major national players, HiteJinro and Oriental Brewery (OB), in an eternal struggle to get ahead of one another, whilst keeping everyone else at bay - and for the most part while both commercial giants still hold the lion's share of the Korean beer market but if only it were that easy.

Every so often one of the two will introduce a new commercial lager that will sweep through South Korea, stealing the top share for a couple of years, that is until the other fights back with their own new lager brand. It's really an eternal tit-for-tat. For every Hite from HiteJinro, OB has a Cass. Then HiteJinro pulls out a Terra and wouldn't you know it - the eyewatering marketing budget works and Terra steals the show. And now, it wants to do it again with Kelly.


Korea's beer wars. We reviewed all of the biggest 6 Korean commercial lagers - reviews here.


I'll bet you right now, you wouldn't have the slightest guess what "Kelly" stands for - it's a combination of the words "Keep Naturally". And at first glance, you'll notice some motif or text that draws on a Danish connection occur a mere 7 times on the front of the can. It really wants to be Danish, but aside from the barley coming from Denmark's Jutland grown by the North Atlantic ocean breeze as stated on the can, the beer is pretty much made in Korea.

Nonetheless that shouldn't be surprising, considering that HiteJinro's last hit, Terra, had an incredibly heavy focus on being Australian - that is until the government stepped in and made them take their Aussie "origins" down a notch. According to the local regulator, even its competitors use Australian barley, so maybe cool it down.


Those cameos ain't cheap!


Nevertheless, we've got Kelly - which we have the benefit of about a year's worth of commercial performance at this point to look back on (we're trying it in early 2024, and it was released in early 2023). And the figures are out - "100 million Kelly bottles sold within the first 99 days of launch", if that doesn't scream blistering success, what does!

So for all the crap folks give HiteJinro, well, it works.

You've just got to basically plug your product in every major K-drama.

But let's give this 100% All Malt Beer that is supposed to be extra long fermented a go ourselves. Onward!

Sidenote: While Kelly was certainly a success in terms of sales, HiteJinro hasn't quite completely gotten the credit it wants out of it. Profit still remains weak because of the incredibly high marketing cost and rising raw material prices, but all that aside, there's no doubt that Kelly more than blew past expectations in sales at the least.

Kelly Beer, HiteJinro, 5% ABV | 하이트진로 켈리 맥주 - Review


Tasting Notes

Color: Gold

Aroma: Fresh honey and wheat, with a scoop of uncooked rice, with some of that nuttiness of rice husks and also a side of more starchy sticky rice.

Taste: Really buttery, malty texture, with a nice thickness. There’s a light sweetness of honey but more of those rice flavours, as well as some savouriness like teriyaki sauce. It’s more buttery than anything else and has a good balance between sweet, nutty and savoury flavours. 

Finish: Lots more of those sweet and chewy sticky rice notes. It fades out into a long and pillowy soft rustic sweetness.


My Thoughts

This was surprisingly enjoyable, definitely a touch above most commercial lagers in how well-balanced this was. I particularly liked that nice rice flavours that carried over from the nose to the palate and finish, with these really lovely chewy sticky rice sweetness, and also I think where this stands out is how well-balanced it was on the palate - it’s definitely not a sugar bomb, but at the same time has a good amount of complexity between being lightly sweet, nutty and savoury, whilst at the same time having an incredibly buttery texture that you don’t often get.

Very nice, definitely my favourite of Korea’s major national beers.


My Rating: 8/10


Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.