When we talk about Korea (South Korea) there is one “in thing” which we also shouldn’t miss… Well, aside from KPop and Kimchi, of course. They say, as a foreigner, you wouldn’t fully experience the Korean culture if you are not able to have a shot or a bomb session of this either alone, with a special someone or with friends in Pojangmacha. Yes, I am talking about drinking Soju – the world’s most popular liquor. This is apparent with Jinro (Korean soju brand) being consistently the best-selling spirits brand over a number of years.
Soju is a colorless distilled beverage that originated in Korea. It has alcohol content varying from 16% up to more than 50%. As of today, varieties of Soju are produced from rice, wheat, or barley and even starch from potatoes. Interestingly, Soju has become part of the Korean culture revealing more about their social structure, lifestyle, and traditions. Their unique alcohol drinking tradition traces back to as old as the 9th century A.D.
When I visited South Korea last year, I came across this GetYourGuide tour package that includes beverage tasting. It got me interested because I really wanted to know more about Soju and how it became reflective of Korea’s drinking culture. The duration of the tour was only about 4 hrs and covered the 1-hr session of liquor tasting with a brewmaster. I’ll discuss the other parts of this tour in my future blogs, but for now, I want to tell you how this soju experience went. If you have the same interest as me, in learning more about Korea’s popular liquor, this tour is definitely worth a try.
Disclaimer: Be Ready to get tipsy or drunk!🤣
Below is a short clip of our session at Samhaesoju-ga Brewery. I’ll be updating this with a longer video soon.
We visited the Samhaesoju-ga Brewery operated by Master Kim Taeksang. His facility is designated to be the 8th Intangible Heritage of Seoul in Korea’s Food and Rural affairs because of his expertise in traditional Korean liquor brewing. A 300-year-old technique passed down from five generations above his grandparents.
Master Kim’s brewery house is known for producing Samhae-ju – a variety of Korean traditional liquor consumed mainly in royal ceremonies during the Goryeo period. Eventually, it has been transmitted as a home-based liquor through generations in noble families.
The main ingredients of Samhaeju are rice, sticky rice, malt, and water which are mixed and processed in cold fermentation. After the long-time aging, the rice wine is then distilled, but only 30% of it is brewed as high-quality spirits. The distillation process gives a rich harmonized flavor of grains and malt. This results in a soft and deep first taste while leaving a pleasant and long aftertaste. The distilled rice wine the very Samhae Soju.
What’s good about Samhae Soju is that it is additive-free, thus, you will never get a hangover the next day.
All about the liquors in Samhaesoju-ga Brewery
With the philosophy of “By Searching the old, learn with the new”, all liquors in Samhaesoju-ga Brewery are produced using the traditional brewing technique of Samhaeju with an additional application of modern edge brewery.
It is no doubt that their liquors are remarkably tasteful, although, those with higher alcohol content are a bit of a challenge for some, if not most of us.
To get to learn more about the liquor products and production processes, Samhaesoju-ga Brewery opens its facility and conducts a list of tasting programs as well as regular brewing courses. Master Kim Taeksang, himself, leads the brewing academy but it is necessary to make reservations in advance due to limited slots.
Here is the variety of Samhaeju products that I was able to taste during our session with Master Kim. We were able to drink 1 shot of each of the 10 common Samhae liquors. The most challenging shot for me was obviously, the one with the highest %ABV.
Samhae Takju – a rice wine, with milky and off-white color, processed through cold fermentation for about 2 months (17%-18% alcohol by volume).
Samhae Yakju – a rice wine brewed by filtering out Samhae Takju giving it a clean and elegant taste (17%-18% alcohol by volume).
Samhae Soju – is made by distilling the Samhae Yakju. This is the main product of the brewery which features a deep and delicate flavor harmonized with grain and malt aromas giving a soft but rich soju taste (45% alcohol by volume).
Samhae Guiji – is also nicknamed as “Terminator” due to its remarkably high alcohol content. This is extracted by distilling Samhaesoju and adding a volume of alcohol by two or three times more, thus, being into its rare quality of liquor spirit (70% alcohol by volume).
Other Wine Varieties:
Samhaepo Takyakju – is brewed from grape juice (of Campbell Variety). The fresh grape flavor gives its deep sparkly flavor of red wine (17%-18% alcohol by volume).
Samhaegyul Takyakju – a golden-colored wine brewed from tangerine juice, rice, and malt. Instead of a sweet taste, it gives more appetite due to its pleasantly sour taste (17%-18% alcohol by volume).
Samhaegyul – a product of the distilled yakju from tangerines (50% alcohol by volume).
Samhaeguk Takyakju – is a fermented liquor brewed from rice, malt, and chrysanthemum tea. This liquor indeed has a very distinct flavor of chrysanthemum (17%-18% alcohol by volume).
Samhaeguk – is produced by distilling the chrysanthemum yakju leaving its fragrant taste to somehow last after sipping (50% alcohol by volume).
Samhaego Takyakju – is a fermented liquor made of water, rice, malt, and added with Sanghwang mushroom (Phellinus linteus). The mushroom gives its peculiar aroma and bitterness (17%-18% alcohol by volume).
Samhaego – is produced by distilling Samhaego Takyakju intensifying the unique aroma of the Sanghwang mushroom (50% alcohol by volume).
I have known about Soju when I started to get hooked with Korean dramas – 15 years ago I guess. I surely bet, there is no K-drama without a scene where actors drink it, right? Let me know if there is. Lol! Also, whenever I feel like having a Korean dinner, this is sometimes part of the meal. I am not really a fan of hard liquors though, but Soju seems good for my taste since it has a bit of sweetness in it (only those with the lower alcohol contents).
It was my first time visiting Seoul (South Korea) and, as much as possible, I wanted to try the uncommon things to do. I would say, this liquor-tasting tour was one of those. I met strangers with the same interest as me. There is an awkward feeling at first but then we became best of friends after 3 hours. That’s because of soju! The funnier thing is our tour guide also got drunk and we were chattering nonsense topics as we walk down to the eumsikjeom (restaurant) for dinner. Nonetheless, it was indeed an informative hour of a drinking session with the expert.
My next goal is to make the soju myself, however, the whole brewing course takes 2 months. Given the chance, I’ll definitely enroll in the regular brewing academy. We never know, Seoul might be my next work location. Grin!