Korean alcoholic beverages
Jusageobae (holding a drinking party)
by Hyewon (1758–1813)
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Korean cuisine has a wide variety of traditional alcoholic beverages, known as sul (술). Many of these beverages end with the Sino-Korean word -ju (주; 酒), and some end with the native Korean word -sul. The Sino-Korean -ju is not used as an independent noun.
There are an estimated 1,000 or more kinds of alcoholic beverages in Korea. Most are made from rice, and are fermented with the aid of yeast and nuruk (a wheat-based source of the enzyme amylase). Fruits, flowers, herbs and other natural ingredients have also been used to craft traditional Korean alcoholic beverages. There are six distinct flavors: sweet, sour, pungent, roasted, bitter and spicy. When the flavors are balanced, the alcohol is considered good quality.
Most traditional Korean alcoholic beverages are rice wines, fermented with the aid of yeast and nuruk (a wheat-based source of the enzyme amylase). Main varieties include clear rice wines (cheongju), milky rice wine (takju), distilled liquor (soju), fruit wine (gwasil-ju), flower wines, and medicinal wines.
Makgeolli (also known as takju and nongju), is a milky, sweet alcoholic beverage made from rice. It is one of Korea's most-popular alcoholic beverages. The oldest traditional Korean rice wine, its alcohol content is six to seven percent. It is fermented naturally and not filtered, which gives it its milky-white color and leaves a chalky residue at the bottom. Thick and smooth. It tastes sweet and slightly tangy, with a cool aftertaste. Makgeolli is served in a bowl, rather than a cup.
In Poetic Records of Emperors and Kings, written during the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), the drink was first mentioned in the founding story of the Goguryeo Kingdom during the reign of King Dongmyeong (37-19 BC). Makgeolli is brewed with classical methods, using nuruk (molded cereal which produces hydrolysable enzymes, decomposing macromolecules to monomers for yeast growth) cooked rice, water, barley and yeast. The brewing process has two steps: seed and main mash and main fermentation. Seed mash is the process of obtaining actively-growing yeasts and enzymes in the mixture of yeast and nuruk. The main mash acquire tastes and aromas from the transformation of nutrients and amino acids derived from the rice. Main fermentation lasts for about a week.
Due to the microorganisms present during fermentation, it contains 1.9 percent protein, over 10 amino acids, vitamin B, inositol and choline. Makgeolli is reported to increase metabolism, relieve fatigue and improve the complexion.
A regional, slightly-creamier variant, originally from Gyeonggi-do, is called dongdongju. Another variety, called ihwaju (hangul: 이화주; hanja: 梨 花酒; "pear-blossom wine") is so named because it is brewed from rice with rice malt which ferments during the pear-blossom season. Ihwaju is often so thick that it is eaten with a spoon. A similar drink is known as Gamju; this name is also used for non-alcoholic sweet drinks, including Sikhye (식혜).
Cheongju, or yakju, is a refined rice wine made from steamed rice which has undergone several fermentation stages. Also known as myeongyakju or beopju, it is distinguished from takju by its relative clarity. Varieties include baekhaju (백하주), made from glutinous rice and nuruk, and heukmeeju (hangul: 흑미주; hanja: 黑米酒; "black rice wine", made from black rice).
Yakju is brewed with boiled rice, yeast and water. If chrysanthemum is included, it is called gukhwaju; if azalea is added, it is called dugyeonju; if pine sprouts are used, it is called songsunju; if lotus leaves are added, it is called ywonyeopju; if ginseng is used, it is called insamju. Takju and cheongju are sometimes distilled, with medicinal herbs added to the distilled liquor. This mixed liquor is brewed to enhance the medicinal effects of the herbs.
This yakju is brewed with flowers and leaves for a distinctive flavor. Kookhwaju (chrysanthemum wine), omijaju, songjeolju and dugyeonju are types of gahyanggokju.
A number of Korean traditional wines are produced from flowers. These include wines made from chrysanthemums (gukhwaju), acacia flowers, maesil and peach blossoms, honeysuckle, wild roses, and sweet-briar petals and berries.
Dugyeonju is a wine made from azalea petals which is produced in Chungcheong Province. Sweet, viscous and light-yellowish-brown in color, it contains about 21 percent alcohol. Myeoncheon Dugyeonju is the South Korean government's Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 86-2.
Medicinal liqueurs, known as yagyongju (약용주, 藥用酒), are produced by combining seeds, herbs and roots with alcohol.
- Baekse-ju (brand name Bek Se Ju), a commercial variant of medicinal wine, is the most popular medicinal wine among younger people (who generally do not drink it for its medicinal properties). It has become a popular alternative to soju in restaurants and bars. Baekse-ju is a rice wine infused with ginseng and eleven other herbs, including licorice, omija (Schisandra chinensis), gugija (Chinese wolfberry), astragalus, ginger and cinnamon, with 13 percent alcohol.
- Beolddeok ju: A rice wine infused with herbal medicines and sweetened with pumpkin malt which is believed to increase male stamina. Bottles are often sold topped with a ceramic penis with a smiling face.
- Bem ju is made by placing a snake in a jar of distilled liquor (such as soju) and aging it. It is a folk remedy which is said to be particularly good for men. Various types of snakes are used. According to local lore, the more venomous the snake, the more powerful the medicinal quality (and the higher the price).
- Chuseongju is a traditional wine made from rice and herbs, including omija (Schisandra chinensis) and Eucommia ulmoides. It is commercially available in a bamboo-shaped bottle.
- Daeipsul (대잎술) is a traditional folk wine from Damyang County in South Jeolla Province made from glutinous and brown rice, bamboo leaves and ten medicinal herbs.
- Dosoju is a popular herbal wine, traditionally served on New Year's Day.
- Insamju, made with ginseng, is said to be the most popular medicinal wine among older people.
- Jugyeopcheongju is a traditional liquor made with bamboo leaves.
- Ogalpiju is made from the bark of Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus, blended with soju and sugar.
- Sansachun is a commercial Korean wine made from the red fruit of the sansa, or Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida). The Bae Sang Myun Brewery Company markets this wine, claiming therapeutic effects.
- Songsunju is soju made with glutinous rice and soft, immature pine cones or sprouts.
- Soju, a clear, slightly-sweet distilled spirit, is the most popular Korean liquor. It is known as "a friend of life" and "the common people's drink." Soju is made from grains (such as rice, barley and wheat) or starches, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and tapioca. Although soju is often compared to vodka, it has a sweet taste due to added sugar. The drink is usually served in a shot glass. It has a smooth, clean taste, and pairs well with a variety of Korean dishes. Soju is generally inexpensive; a typical bottle costs about ₩1,000, less than US$1. It typically has an alcohol content of 40 proof (20 percent alcohol by volume).
In the 13th century, during the Goryeo dynasty, Mongol invaders brought soju (known as araki) with them. Araki is derived from the Arabic araq (liquor). Soju was originally developed in Arabia, and passed through Mongolia on its way to Korea. Distilled liquor was new to Koreans, who were accustomed to fermented alcoholic beverages such as makgeolli. Mongol camps such as Kaesong, Andong and Jeju Island are well-known soju-producing regions. During the late 20th century, soju flavored with lemon or green tea became available. The Japanese version is known as shōchū.
Danyangbeop (single-brew) or leeyangbeop (double-brew) are traditional grain-wine brewing methods. Takju or cheongju is distilled to produce soju. Andong soju's distinctive flavor is well-known in the city. Okroju from Gyeonggi Province originated in Hanyang during the late Joseon dynasty. Munbae-ju is South Korea's Important Intangible Cultural Property 86‑1. It is a traditional liquor made from malted millet, sorghum, wheat, rice and nuruk, with a strength of 40 percent alcohol by volume. Munbae-ju originated in the Pyongyang region and is known for its fragrance, which is said to resemble the flower of the munbae (pear) tree.
Distilled liquors also include goryangju and okroju.
Yagyong-jeungryuju (medicinal liquor) include:
- Igang-ju is a straw-colored drink which has been brewed in Jeolla and Hwanghae Provinces since the mid-Joseon dynasty. With a delicate scent, it is flavored with curcuma root, cinnamon and pears.
- Gamhongno is a traditional light-pink liquor with medicinal herbs which is popular in Pyongyang and the Kwanso region of North Korea. It is distilled three times and aged for 120 years.
Korea has a number of traditional fruit wines, produced by combining fruits or berries with alcohol. Podoju (포도주, 葡萄酒) is made from rice wine which is mixed with grapes. The most popular fruit wines include maesil-ju (made from plums), bokbunja-ju (made from Korean black raspberries), and wines made from Chinese quinces, cherries and pomegranates.
Gwasilju is usually made from fruits or grains. In the spring, people make alcoholic beverages with azaleas, forsythia, peaches and pears. In the summer, lotuses and roses are often used. In the fall, chrysanthemum, yuzu, Korean wild grapes, black raspberries and apples are often infused. In the winter, Asian apricot is sometimes used.
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