While reading travel guides and browsing the net for information about Korean culture and cuisine, I noticed that Korea seems to have a very rich and diverse tradition in alcoholic beverages and that even the official tourist brochures mark them as a fundamental part of the culture. The fact that a country has deep traditions in brewing and distilling is, of course, a great thing by itself, but the fact that it’s mentioned so openly strikes me as somewhat surprising.
This is probably because in Finland, where I grew up, alcohol consumption has always been some kind of taboo, with very strict government controls for where and when you can sell it. Here the common wisdom is that alcohol consumption must be regulated, otherwise the Finns will literally drink themselves to the grave. Only in recent years there has been some progress in Finland with respect to attitudes towards alcoholic beverages, and people have shifted from the tasteless Finnish fodder to imported beers from UK, Belgium and Czech Republic. In the process, then, some brave individuals got the idea that you could actually make good beer also in Finland (Thank god for Capitalism!) and set up small breweries. And now there seems to be a growing appreciation for the culture of alcoholic beverages, if you like to think of it in that sense.
Well, the point in all this was to say that it’s good to see such a healthy relationship towards brewing and alcoholic drinks in Korea. Of course I could be wrong and Koreans actually have a national drinking problem, but somehow I doubt that. At least I’m looking forward to experiencing the local stuff without any fear of developing drinking problems (not too serious anyway :P). And for my own joy, and perhaps others’ as well (if somebody keeps on reading this rants), I’m going to introduce a few types of Korean Liquors here:
Makgeolli is made from fermented rice wine and should have a sweet and yogurty flavour. The alcohol content is low and it’s served from these little bowls. It’s also called “the liquor of common people” or “farmer liquor” because originally it was especially popular within farmers. It certainly looks interesting but I can’t really imagine how it would taste 🙂
Soju, made traditionally from rice, but nowadays from other starches as well, has a ABV of 20-45%. In some places it’s called the Korean vodka and it seems to be extremely popular. It’s supposed to be dirt cheap and you can basically buy it from any convenience store. And according to the Korea Tourism Organisation, it “goes well with almost everything” =) No wonder it’s so popular, eh?
This fruit wine is made from small plums that are matured for at least 5 years. There are also a number of other fruit wines, made from raspberries, cherries, pineapples and others. The alcohol content of these wines should be quite low and some of them are not sold widely, so I might need to travel to the countryside to taste them. There are also wines made from flowers, such as roses, and of herbs, such as insam (Korean ginseng). The herb wines are renowned for their medical attributes and health benefits (naturally) 🙂
Well, that’s all for now =)