Jason Kusowski is the co-founder and brewer at the new Artmonster Brewery in South Korea. He hails from Columbus, where he was a singer-songwriter with the band The Spruce Campbells and attempted to launch the Spruce Campbells Brewing Co. His Korean brewery opened Monday.

Question: Why did you become a brewer?

Answer: I tried to do a 9-to-5 job. I was escorted out Office Space-style after I was fired (turns out saying mother f@#ker around your boss is frowned upon in the corporate environment). Wasn't even allowed to pack my own stuff up. I knew then I had to do something creative or my soul would wither up and die like a worm in the sun.

So many years ago, I started making craft beer for myself and friends. I played in bands in Columbus for over 15 years (Asthmo, The Nuclear Children, Barkers Beauties, Incognegro, The Spruce Campbells). I would take the beer to shows and parties. Bar owners started asking me when they could carry my beers. It was then that I realized I might be able to do something creative that I loved for a living. So I figured if I was going to open a brewery, I should know everything about running a brewery. I mean, just because you golf for fun doesn't mean you should join the PGA. So I pulled out my savings and headed to beer school.

Q: How did you end up opening a craft brewery in South Korea?

A: I went to the Siebel Institute in Chicago and then Doemens in Germany to get my international Braumeister diploma. It was there that I met my classmate and future best friend Andrew Park. He talked about his vision to open a brewery in Korea. About how it was in its craft beer infancy and a great opportunity to teach people all about good beer. He had come to school to try and find the right brewmaster for his new venture. And luckily, I was the one he made the offer to.

To be honest, I wasn't really into the idea at first. I mean, Korea? I'd never even been to Asia. I think it was really fear-based though. So I kept upping my demands.

“I want to brew on a sweet automated German system?”

“Perfect, we want to do that, too.”

“Ok, well I want to make sour beers like I do here.”

“We also want to do sour beers. Let's buy some wine barrels.”

“Huh ... Well I want to make Kombucha and cider, make beer with only bacteria, create new probiotic drinks, and do really weird stuff.”

“Awesome, those sound like great ideas.”

“Damn. Really?”

Every idea I had, he fully embraced. It was almost too perfect. Call it kismet.

So Andrew flew me out to Seoul and showed me around. I saw the promise there. The food was amazing. It just kind of felt like fate. And then he made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I had been telling people since I was a kid that I wanted to build an empire with my friends. Turns out, you can get what you want. But there is always a catch. Mine was that we had to do it in South Korea. But it has been going really well. Definitely been a wild ride. In the six months I have been here, we have opened two breweries (sour, and production) and two restaurants.

Andrew and I have been working on this with Rory Harms (brewer at Mad Moon), Rick Durham (brewer at BrewDog), and Nick Long (PhD student in microbiology at OSU and homebrewer) for four years now. The rest are going to come over as soon as we get our tank expansion. So it has been a long time in the works. After many years of work we released our first nine beers on Nov. 13. We also just opened our second restaurant in a renovated 100-year-old historic Korean home this past weekend. Our third restaurant opens in December.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the beer market in South Korea. (Is it the same as the U.S.? Different? Are there a lot of craft breweries opening? Do Koreans have different tastes?)

A: Korea is still dominated by OB (Oriental Brewing) and Cass (InBev). They control almost all of the market. Think of the US in the '80s/'90s. The only difference is that they do get imported U.S. beers. The problem is, by the time they get here, they don't taste very good. Ballast Point, Heretic, Lost Coast, North Coast, and a few others all distribute here. So people in Korea are starting to get hip to the beers and styles that are popular in the U.S.

Surprisingly for some, the craft beer market in Korea is mainly spearheaded by women. They are the ones who are drinking the most craft beer in the country. For men, Soju (rice liquor) is king. And I can't really blame them. It is about $1.50 for a bottle of 20 percent liquor that goes down super smooth. The default is to pour a shot of Soju and top off the small glass with Cass (basically Bud Light). But I think over the next few years, you will see a change as people go more toward flavor and not just getting messed up.

The craft market, brewery wise, is still relatively small. The governmental regulations make it very difficult to get into the market. Everything, and I mean everything, is taxed (including your brewing equipment). The majors have put in a lot of regulations that really handcuff craft brewers. It is a lot like the U.S. in the '80s. But as craft beer becomes more popular, those laws are starting to change. So over the next five years you should see a big boom in the market. Korea is the No. 1 alcohol consuming country per capita (that's right, it isn't Ireland).

Everything here is fermented. So we have lot of plans to do sours, cider, probiotic drinks, malt vinegars, and kombucha. We really think the consumers over here will be into that kind of thing as they share a lot of flavors similar to dishes and drinks they are already used to. It is really refreshing though. Because there are still so many people who don't know craft beer. So the opportunity to teach people is still there. We are constantly opening people up to beer styles they haven't had before. It is a very exciting time to be making beer in Asia.

Q: Usually I ask what a brewery’s best-selling beer is, but with yours being so new I’ll mix up this question. If someone drops into your brewery right now (and I know that would be difficult with many folks reading this) and can have only one of your beers, what beer do you hand them and why? (And no cheating and mentioning all your beers!)

A: Monk Food. It is a 4.2 percent alcohol by volume dark lager. We had a similar beer in the Czech Republic at U Fleku and loved it. When we came back to the states to do test batches, we decided to do our own take on it. We can actually make it as an ale or lager and both are delicious. It took us 10 test recipes until we had it honed in. No one is doing a crushable black ale/lager. Not bitter, not overly roasty. Balanced, smooth, creamy, chocolatey deliciousness. The key is keeping the IBUs super low. Let the bitter malts add the dryness. So you can't really call our beer a schwarzbier because it is too low of IBUs and ABV. But for us, it is our go-to all-day drinking beer. We fully expect it to be copied pretty quickly.

Q: Which beer -- any beer in the world -- do you wish that you created/invented/brewed and why?

A: This is kind of an impossible question. Like asking what your favorite song is. It is pretty mood and environment dependent. The one memory that sticks out to me though ... When I was in beer school, Founders brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki was sent there for one of the modules (I am not exactly sure why, vacation maybe?). We became friends and over the course of watching a Thursday Night Football game, he pulled out a brand new beer they had just started canning called All Day. I took one sip and looked at him. “Oh, screw you. Do you realize what you just did?” It was so simple but brilliant. Fresh, crisp balanced, pungent, hoppy deliciousness. I knew I was holding in my hands the start of a major trend in craft beer. Screw Bud Light, drink an All Day.

When you are really getting into a craft or business you always look for those who are executing it extremely well and are setting the trends for the future (like Jeremy Kosmicki, Matt Cole, Vinnie Cilruzo, Dan Carey, Ron Jeffries). Those are the people to emulate. When I drank the All Day while watching the Lions lose (again), I knew that this was going to be a game changing beer in the world of craft beer. And now years later, who doesn't make a session IPA? It is stuff like that that keeps me inspired to make beer. I don't wish I made it first. It wasn't my time. I am just glad I tried it before it caught the world by storm. My goal one day is to make our own beer that becomes a staple or a new style. To me, that is the pinnacle of being an artist. Creating something that inspires someone else that you've never even met.

Editor's note: If anyone is interested in contacting Jason, you can reach him via email at jason@artmonster.co.kr. The Five questions with ... feature appears each Friday. If you'd like to participate or would like to recommend someone to participate, send me an email at rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.