Koreans have brewed and enjoyed their own liquor since ancient times, and a unique traditional liquor culture has bloomed and grown since. Every family had their own way of brewing liquor. Gayangju (home-brewed liquor) was made with much care and devotion to be served on ancestral rites, festive events or when welcoming guests.
TRADITIONAL LIQUOR TRIO— CHEONGJU, MAKGEOLLI, SOJU
Traditional Korean liquors use a “mother yeast” made by fermenting rice and malt. The clear liquid collected by inserting a traditional colander-like device in the mother yeast is called cheongju, and because it took so much time to make only a small amount, cheongju was regarded as a superior liquor. On the contrary, makgeolli, which was easier to make in large quantities, was known as the commoners’ liquor. The name makgeolli was derived from its making process, combining two Korean words that translate to “roughly sieved.” Lastly, soju is a liquor with a higher alcohol content produced by the distillation of makgeolli. While it is the most popular liquor in Korea today, soju was an energy boosting drink for kings in the olden days.
A RICH AND ELEGANT HOME-BREWED LIQUOR CULTURE
Through the years, traditional Korean liquors have changed and advanced depending on medicinal ingredients, flowers and fruits produced in the different seasons and regions. Korean homes have brewed their very own liquors for years, and the especially well-made and great tasting liquors have become representative liquors in their respective regions. Famed home-brewed liquors include “Beopju,” made by the wealthy Choe family in Gyodong, Gyeongju; “Leegangju,” which is a wild pear liquor, from Jeonju; the Geumsan Ginseng Liquor, and the Andong Soju.During the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), there were more than 300 regional liquors renowned for their excellence.
A LIQUOR FOR EVERY OCCASION
In Korea, liquor is always present during ancestral rites, when inviting guests, or on festive events. As an old saying goes, “you can see the politics of a village by the taste of its local liquor,” Koreans often regarded liquor as an indicator of a community’s dignity and worth. The most popular liquor in Korea today is soju, and special mixtures like so-maek (soju+maekju (beer)), fruit soju (soju+citron fruit, peach, apple, grapefruit, etc.), and “Bekseju” (soju brewed with medicinal herbs) are especially popular among younger generations.