Korean Traditional Liquors and Wines

Traditional Liquors and Wines
For Koreans, alcohol has been a lifelong companion in times of sorrow and joy. Korean people have been brewing their own liquor since ancient times when they first began to practice agriculture. Since then, liquor has been enjoyed at every festival and event. Historical records show that Korean people began brewing a clear grain-based liquor before the 4th century. Since that time, Koreans have performed ceremonies when they make a ritual offering of the alcohol to their ancestors in appreciation for the bountiful annual harvest and to pray for future happiness. After making the ritual offerings, Koreans traditionally enjoy drinking the liquor while singing and dancing.
Korea’s traditional liquors are takju (탁주), cheongju 청주 (or yakju 약주), and soju (소주). The oldest is takju, which is made by fermenting grains like rice or wheat. When takju is strained to a refined clear liquor, it becomes cheongju (yakju), and when cheongju is distilled, it becomes soju. Today, takju is more commonly known as makgeolli, and it is enjoyed by the majority of Koreans as well as many visitors.
Makgeolli (Takju) – 막걸리 (탁주)
Makgeolli (Takju) – 막걸리 (탁주)Makgeolli is unique to Korea. It is made by mixing steamed glutinous rice, barley, or wheat with nuruk, a fermentation starter culture, and water, and then leaving the mixture to ferment. It has a milky, opaque color and a low alcohol content of 6%-7%. It is also called takju (tak meaning opaque) or nongju (nong means farming) because it is traditionally enjoyed by farmers after a day of hard labor.
In Korea, the most popular types of makgeolli are ssal makgeolli (쌀막걸리) made of rice (ssal means ‘rice’) and dongdongju (동동주) in which unstrained rice floats on the surface (dongdong means ‘floating’). When drinking makgeolli, make sure to shake or stir it well before drinking. The best makgeolli is an intriguing blend of sweet, sour, bitter, and astringent tastes. You can try makgeolli almost anywhere in Seoul, particularly recommended are the traditional Korean taverns in the downtown Insa-dong or Myeong-dong areas. Outside of Seoul, there are also many establishments that sell makgeolli. You will also find a wide range of makgeolli or dongdongju at grocery stores, convenience stores, and department stores. Unpasteurized makgeolli will last for only 10 to 30 days, so make sure to check the expiry date.
Chamsari Takju (참살이탁주)
Chamsari Takju (참살이탁주) Chamsari Takju is a brand of makgeolli with a 6% alcohol content. It is made from environmentally friendly, pesticide-free rice, which was developed by a master of alcohol brewing and Hankyong National University. Much research was done into minimizing the ingredients that cause hangovers, while nutrients like Vitamin B1 and B2 were preserved. Therefore, it is thought to be good for the skin. Chamsari Takju was designated as the official drink for the International Symposium on Korean Cuisine to the World, which was held at the Lotte Hotel in April 2009.
Price: Supermarkets 1,500~2,500 won, taverns/bars 3,000~6,000 won
Where to buy it: Hyundai Department Store, Hanaro Mart, and traditional taverns
Chamsari Official Site: www.chamsary.co.kr (Korean)

Kooksoondang Ssal Makgeolli (국순당 쌀막걸리)
Kooksoondang Ssal Makgeolli (국순당 쌀막걸리) Kooksoondang Ssal Makgeolli is quality makgeolli made with special nuruk starter culture and uncooked rice. It is known for its fresh flavors and excellent taste. Through low-temperature pasteurization, nutritional loss was minimized. This brand of makgeolli has high levels of amino-acid, which helps maintain its fresh taste for a long time. After the low-temperature pasteurization process, the liquor is packaged in a hygienic can, so it can be stored for a year and can be easily carried to outings or picnics. Also available is saeng makgeolli (생막걸리), which comes in a plastic bottle.
Price: Supermarkets 600~1,500 won, taverns/bars 3,000~5000 won
Where to buy it: Grocery stores, supermarkets, taverns
Kooksoondang Official Site: www.ksdb.co.kr (Korean, English, Japanese)

Seoul Takju’s Jangsoo Saeng Makgeolli (서울탁주 장수 생막걸리) 
Seoul Takju’s Jangsoo Saeng Makgeolli (서울탁주 장수 생막걸리) Jangsoo Saeng Makgeolli has an alcohol content of 6%. It is made from white rice and goes through a long low-temperature fermentation process that gives it a unique, mild taste. The live yeast balances the carbon dioxide generated during the natural fermentation process and enhances the nutrition levels and unique flavor of this traditional Korean takju.
Price: Supermarkets 1,000~1,500 won, taverns/bars 3,000~4,000 won
Where to buy it: Convenience stores, grocery stores, supermarkets, taverns/bars
Seoul Takju Official Site: www.koreawine.co.kr (Korean, English, Japanese)
Cheongju (Yakju) – 청주 (약주)
Cheongju (Yakju) – 청주 (약주)Unlike takju, which is thick and opaque, cheongju’s liquor is clear (cheong means clear). The brewing process is largely similar to that of takju, but the straining process is different. The main ingredients, rice, nuruk starter culture, and water are put in a jug and kept for 10 to 20 days at a temperature of 20-25 degrees Celsius. During this time the mixture ferments and turns into liquor. Then a yongsu, a long cylindrical strainer made from closely woven bamboo strips, is inserted into the center of the jug. Clear liquor is collected inside the yongsu.
Cheongju is regarded as high quality liquor in Korea and is therefore difficult to find at general bars. It is usually available at department stores or grocery stores and comes in an elegant package, so it is a popular gift for special occasions or holidays.
Gyeongju Gyodong Beopju (경주 교동법주)
Gyeongju Gyo-dong Beopju (경주 교동법주) Gyeongju Gyodong Beopju liquor has been brewed for many generations by the Choi family living in Gyodong, Gyeongju. This 300 year old alcohol was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset no. 86-3 in 1986. The liquor is brewed using glutinous rice and does not have any added chemicals. Its alcohol content is about 17% and the end product is a clear transparent liquor that is yellowish in color.
Like many grain-based types of liquor, Beopju’s unique sweetness spreads fragrantly inside your mouth. The main characteristic in Beopju’s brewing process is that after making the base liquor, it is then put through a second fermentation process. Thus, it takes about a hundred days to brew, and bottles that are available for sale have generally been matured for over a year.
Price: 32,000~76,000 won
Information: +82-54-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese) +82-54-772-5994 (Korean)
Where to buy it: Buy Gyeongju Gyo-dong Beopju directly from the Choi family’s home. You can either call them or visit them. The price is cheaper for visitors. The Choi family home (최부자집) is about 10 minutes by taxi from Gyeongju train station or express bus terminal.
Gyeongju Gyodong Beopju Official Site: www.kyodongbeobju.com (Korean)

Hansan Sogokju (한산 소곡주)
Hansan Sogokju (한산 소곡주) A traditional liquor brewed in Hansan in the Seocheon area of Chungcheongnam-do Province, Hansan Sogokju has been designated as Chungcheongnam-do province’s Intangible Cultural Asset no. 3. It is said that 1500 years ago it was enjoyed by the royal family of the Baekje Dynasty. Hansan Sogokju is sweet and fragrant and has a soft yellow color. It is particularly enjoyed for its subtle and unique fragrance that comes from wild chrysanthemums. Its alcohol content is 18%, so people can enjoy it without fear of intoxication. Known to purify blood and help vasodilatation, sogokju is also used as a medicine.

Price: 6,500~140,000 won
Information: +82-41-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese), +82-41-951-0290 (Korean)
Where to buy it: Nonghyup Hanaro Mart, Lotte Mart, Incheon International Airport Duty Free store
Hansan Sogokju Official Site: www.sogokju.co.kr (Korean)
Soju (소주)
Soju (소주)Soju is first fermented by combining rice or other grains with a starter culture and is then distilled. Depending on the intensity of the heat, the taste, quality and quantity of the soju varies. Since it is made by distillation, it has high alcohol content.
Soju is the most popular liquor in Korea. Locally produced traditional liquors, which have been designated as Intangible Cultural Assets, are not only expensive, but aren’t often sold at ordinary bars. However, common soju is sold in almost all bars and restaurants. It comes in small bottles (360ml) and there are a variety of brands available. Since soju is so popular, competition for market share is fierce. Soju can be easily purchased in stores, large or small, even in the smallest of towns, as well as all drinking establishments.
Andong Soju (안동소주)
Andong Soju (안동소주) Andong Soju is a traditional distilled liquor, whose production has been carried on for generations by a noted family in the Andong region. In 1987, it was designated as Intangible Cultural Asset no. 12 of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. The drink, which has been popular since the Goryeo Dynasty (918~1392), is often served to guests and used for medicinal purposes. The production process begins with the steaming of five grains, including rice and barley, to which nuruk, the starter culture, is added. Following this, the mixture is left to ferment for a week, and then it is transferred to a cauldron and distilled for a day, after which it becomes the finished soju. The alcohol content is rather high at 45%. Since long ago, Andong soju has been used for treating certain ailments, such as stomach aches and poisonous insect bites.

Pricee: 13,000 won~50,000 won
Information: +82-54-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese), +82-54-858-4551~3 (Korean)
Where to buy it: The brewery has a museum as well as a shop where the price is 20% cheaper than at retail stores. The brewery is 10 minutes away by taxi from Andong train station or express bus terminal. The soju is also available for purchase at major department stores, the Incheon International Airport AK Duty Free store, and the Korea Tourism Organization duty free store.
Andong Soju Official Site: www.andongsoju.co.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
☞ Click here for Andong Soju Museum

Jeonju Leegangju (전주 이강주)
Jeonju Leegangju (전주 이강주) Leegangju soju was so highly esteemed that it was selected as the official drink for the signing of the Joseon-United States Trade Treaty under the rule of Emperor Gojong (1863~1907). Jeonju Leegangju is particularly renowned for one of its ingredients: high-quality turmeric, which is produced in Jeonju. Pears, ginger, cinnamon, and honey are added to the local soju, which is made from white rice. The mixture is then left to age for a long time. It has a light yellow color, a strong fragrance, and an uncomplicated flavor. Its alcohol content is between 22% and 25%. Thankfully, due to its medicinal properties, it doesn’t leave you with a hangover.
Price: 16,500 won~220,000 won
Information: +82-63-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese) +82-63-212-5765 (Korean)
Where to buy it: Department stores and grocery stores
Jeonju Leegangju Official Site: www.leegangju.co.kr (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)

Munbaeju (문배주)
Munbaeju (문배주) A traditional local specialty of Pyeongan-do Province (currently in North Korea), Munbaeju was designated Important Intangible Cultural Asset no. 86 in 1986. The liquor was also used when toasts were raised at the South-North Korea Summit Meeting held in 2000. The main ingredients of this distilled liquor are made from wheat, hulled millet, and African millet. This yellowish-brown liquor has a pear fragrance (it gets its name from munbae, which is a type of pear tree). Despite the high alcohol content (40%), it goes down pretty easily compared to other sojus.
Price: 20,000~120,000 won
Information: +82-31-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese) +82-31-989-9333 (Korean)
Where to buy it: Department stores, grocery stores, the Incheon International Airport AK Duty Free store, and the Korea Tourism Organization duty free store.
Munbaeju Official Site: www.moonbaesool.co.kr (Korean)

Jindo Hongju (진도 홍주)
Jindo Hongju (진도 홍주) This traditional liquor has been made in Jindo since the Goryeo Dynasty (918∼1392) and was designated Intangible Cultural Asset no. 26 of Jeollanam-do Province in 1994. Nuruk starter culture is mixed with steamed barley and left to age. Then, redroot gromwell (an herb) is added to create the characteristic red color. Tinting the fermented and distilled liquor with gromwell, gives Jindo Hongju a unique flavor and color. Though it has an alcohol content exceeding 40%, it has a mild taste and subtle fragrance. The gromwell herb is recognized for its effects on diabetes and is valued as a medicinal herb.
Price: 6,000~25,000 won
Information: +82-61-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese) +82-61-542-3399 (Korean)
Where to buy it: Homeplus, Lotte Mart, Lotte Duty Free
Jindo Hongju Official Site: http://hongju.jindo.go.kr (Korean, English)

Other Popular Sojus
Other Popular Sojus The most popular type of soju on the market is diluted soju, which is produced by mixing water and spirits. In Seoul, the best known are Chamiseul (참이슬), Cheo-eum Cheoreom (처음처럼), and J. While all have the same soju base, they differ slightly depending on the water content and added ingredients. When diluted soju first appeared in 1965, the alcohol content was around 30%. The amount of liquor has continued to decrease, and now beverages with less than 20% alcohol content are the most popular. There are local brands as well, including Green (그린) in Gangwon-do, Siwon (시원) in Busan, and Hallasan (한라산) in Jeju.

Price:Supermarkets 1,000~2,000 won, bars 3,000~4,000 won
Where to buy it:Convenience stores, grocery stores, supermarkets, most drinking places
Chamiseul Official Site: www.chamisulfresh.com (Korean)
Cheo-eum Cheoreom Official Site: www.soju.co.kr (Korean)
Gwasilju (과실주)
Gwasilju (과실주) Gwasilju is the Korean generic term for fruit-based liquor. To produce quality gwasilju, the fruit, which is the main ingredient, should be fresh and have a distinct tartness. Ordinary Korean families often make home-made gwasilju by mixing some kind of fruit with soju. Bars, grocery stores, and convenience stores also carry a variety of gwasilju such as Seoljungmae (설중매), Maechwisun (매취순), Maehwasu (매화수), and Sansachun (산 사춘), made from green plums or cornel fruit. These are slightly more expensive than soju, but because of their fragrant, fruity flavor and milder taste than most alcohols, gwasiljus are popular among women.
Gochang Bokbunja (고창 복분자주)
Gochang Bokbunja (고창 복분자주) Made of black raspberries called bokbunja, Gochang Bokbunjaju has been the favorite drink of a town near Seonunsa Temple in Gochang, Jeollabuk-do Province for 1,400 years. Both men and women like it because of its sweet taste and mildness. Bokbunja has an interesting meaning: it literally means ‘a force so strong that it would knock a urinal over.’ This alone indicates the effects of bokbunja. It is thought to be effective against cancer, and it prevents aging, and the hardening of the arteries. It is also known to be particularly beneficial for improving eyesight and memory.
Price: 12,000~50,000 won
Information: +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Where to buy it: Department stores, grocery stores, and stores around Mt. Seonunsan

Jinro Maehwasu (진로 매화수)
Jinro Maehwasu (진로 매화수) Jinro Maehwasu is made using pure green plum extract, chilled and then filtered for about a month, which gives it a refined, mild taste. Green plums contain numerous organic acids and vitamins good for the skin, so Maehwasu is popular among women.
Price: Supermarkets 1,500~2,500 won, bars 4,000~5,000 won
Where to buy it: Convenience stores, large grocery stores, supermarkets, most drinking places
Maehwasu Official Site: www.maehwasu.com (Korean)

Lotte Seoljungmae (롯데 설중매)
Lotte Seoljungmae (롯데 설중매) Lotte Seoljungmae contains real plums. Using the highest-quality hand picked fruits, Seoljungmae has a mild flavor and tastes just like green plums. Pure green plum liquid extracted at a low-temperature, which helps maintain the freshness of the fruit, is chill-filtered at minus 8 degrees for over 10 days to ensure its mild taste and strong fragrance.
Price: Supermarkets 3,000~5,000 won, bars 7,000~10,000 won
Where to buy it: Large grocery stores, supermarkets, and drinking places