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Community Spotlight

Youngwon Lee Headshot.jpeg

CEO, Dokkaebier

Thank you for sharing your story and talking about Non-Traditional Career Paths” at January’s Inspiring Across Generations (IAG) Conference. What was your experience like?

IAG was an amazing experience! It was inspiring to meet so many people with similar interests.

I was surprised at how many people came to my session. People seemed genuinely interested and asked a lot of questions. I think everyone got something out of it, which was a great feeling. It was especially meaningful because I’m the only one focused on Dokkaebier, so seeing people resonate with my work and recognize what I do is rare.

 

Afterward, many people reached out on LinkedIn, seeking my advice. I want to continue to make an impact.

As CEO of Dokkaebier, tell us how you got into the craft beer industry.

I have spent most of my career in the alcohol industry, mainly in South Korea. It was not until I started working in the United States that I realized I was often the only Asian person, especially working in beer. I quickly realized I needed to be the change. 

 

The craft beer industry has little diversity and lacks creativity. I knew I could fill that void by bringing my unique perspective and valuable experience.

 

I wanted to create the first Asian craft beer brand. Everything would be Asian-influenced, including the design, packaging, name, and branding. Most importantly, it would also have an Asian-driven taste. I wanted to be authentic and bring my culture and heritage to an industry I love.

 

The name comes from dokkaebi, the mythological creatures from Korean folklore who love eating, drinking, and playing but hide during the day. It was perfect for a craft beer brand! The creatures also capture our heritage as Korean Americans, so we combined dokkaebi with beer and got Dokkaebier.

As a business owner, what challenges did you have to overcome?

I founded Dokkaebier in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. We decided to launch a pop-up taproom in San Francisco for our debut. We worked with a former chef de cuisine from the two Michelin Stars restaurant Saison to have the perfect food pairing, but the pandemic shut everything down. 

 

We quickly found a new way to get our craft beer to the fans we had made in such a short time. It was challenging to get set up online as an early-stage alcohol startup, but we overcame because we are all shape-shifters as dokkaebis. 

 

We then started to sample our beer at local beer festivals and events in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was important for us to be a part of the community, especially in uncertain times. We donated food and beer to first responders at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, and worked on exclusive collaborations with local Asian American community groups and nonprofits. We also proudly supply our beer to local small businesses, including many Asian restaurants all across California. 

 

We are proud that Dokkaebier is available everywhere from local grocers, such as Berkeley Bowl, Bi-Rite Market, and Gus’s Community Market, and national retailers, like BevMo!, H Mart, Whole Foods Market, and Total Wine & More.

Our Ascend NorCal members are proud of their heritage and local community. How do NorCal and your culture inspire you and your business?

Dokkaebier is influenced by both the diversity of Oakland, where our brewery and taproom are headquartered, and the abundance of craft beer in California.

 

Six of the ten U.S. cities with the largest Asian populations are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the whole country. We draw our inspiration to be authentically Asian-inspired from where we live and its rich history and diversity.

 

California, particularly Northern California, is one of the country’s highest craft beer-producing areas. In 2022, the U.S. craft beer industry produced 24 million barrels of beer, with California producing 3.5 million barrels, or about 15% of all beer made in the U.S. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by craft beer enthusiasts.

 

The inspiration for Dokkaebier stems from a need for more representation in the craft beer industry. It’s troubling that it doesn’t yet exist, despite California’s incredible diversity. We want to be the brand that bridges cultures authentically and introduces craft beer enthusiasts to new Asian-inspired ingredients and flavors, while introducing the Asian community to craft beer.

Youngwon Lee Headshot.jpeg
IAG was an amazing experience! It was inspiring to meet so many people with similar interests.

-Youngwon
What are some myths/stereotypes about Pan-Asians and beer that you think need to be busted?

I hear all the time that Asians drink only lagers, but this is misleading! Lagers are typically the only style of beer that most Pan-Asians have access to, but once exposed to other beers, they enjoy them with fervor.

 

Dokkaebier introduces Pan-Asians to good-quality beers beyond lagers. We take ingredients that our communities are familiar with, like jasmine rice, calamansi, ginger, and gochugaru, and add them to beer styles they might not have seen before. We’ve been able to make a difference by being more than just the same old beer.

What’s next for you and Dokkaebier?

We want to establish Dokkaebier as a nationally renowned Asian craft beer brand. When someone mentions one of our core beers, such as Kimchi Sour, we want them to immediately recognize it’s from Dokkaebier. 

 

We believe Dokkaebier will be a household name and synonymous with Asian culture. Soon, we might move beyond craft beer and introduce adults to Asian and Asian-influenced spirits.

 

Next month, we’re releasing Dragonfruit Blonde Ale just in time for Lunar New Year. We’re also releasing Seoul to Soul, a watermelon ginger beer, in partnership with Hella Coastal, a Black-owned brewery based in Oakland.

 

As a company, Dokkaebier values adventurousness, shape-shifting, and indulgence. We want to be more widely available geographically and as different types of alcohol, as it aligns with our adventurous and shape-shifting spirit. Staying true to our roots means exploring the world and sharing our spirit with others.

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Youngwon Lee, CEO of Dokkaebier, spoke on “Non-Traditional Career Paths” at Ascend NorCal’s January IAG, moderated by Gloria Zhu, VP, Wealth Architect at J.P. Morgan. 

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