Dating back to ancient times, Korean tradition liquor has been loved by Koreans of all demographics. In addition, it has been prepared when memorial services or religious or family ceremonies are observed.
Korea, an ancient country, has a great number of such ceremonies. And various types of liquors, which have a distinctive brewing method according to each locality, boast characteristic tastes and flavors. Alcoholic beverages have a long and venerable history in Korea, the first of them being produced through the natural fermentation of fruits and grains.
Native local drinks can be largely categorized into three: grain wine, medicinal liquor and distilled spirits. Grain wine is brewed mainly with nonglutinous rice and glutinous rice with yeast. Most native local liquors are included in this category. Medicinal liquor is made from mixing special medicinal materials with grain wine and it is mainly used as folk medicine. Meanwhile, distilled spirits are rather lightly sweet, with a clear taste and a deep and smooth finish. However, they are also drink is quite strong.
Native local liquor has long been Korea¡¯s staple and traditional liquor. However, the Japanese colonial period made traditional Korean liquors experience a rapid collapse in demand. Under Japan¡¯s occupation in Korea, brewing local liquor at home was considered illegal. Accordingly, traditional liquor was secretly manufactured and the recipe was also privately transferred. After liberation, the rapid introduction of Western style liquor as well as the government¡¯s ban on brewing liquor at home caused traditional Korean liquor to gradually disappear. In the end, traditional liquor lost market share to Western style drinks (whether imported or made domestically) such as beer and wine. Under such circumstances, the Cultural Heritage Administration decided to revive the traditional brewing method of traditional Korean liquor in 1986 and it selected 86 kinds of folk liquor as cultural properties. Among them 12 types of liquor were finally selected as Important Intangible Cultural Properties and each one hails from its own locality.
Three representative traditional Korean drinks are detailed below: ¡°Munbaeju,¡± ¡°Myeoncheon Dugyeonju¡± and ¡°Gyodong Beopju.¡±
Munbaeju (Important Intangible Cultural Property No 86-1)
During the Goryo Dynasty, it was not unusual for a person to present a local specialty, such as a wine, to the king in order to obtain a government appointment. According to legend, the family that first developed Munbaeju did so to offer it to the king as a gift. The royal favor the family received resulted in its winemaking process being kept secret for generations. In recent years the government has designated Mumbaeju as an important intangible cultural asset.
Munbaeju is made through the fermentation of millet, sorghum and nuruk, a grain that has been malted and allowed to rise and harden in cake form. The mixture is then distilled in a pot still, and the distilled liquid allowed to age from six months to a year. It has the flavor and fragrance of native pear blossoms, from which its name is derived, although pears are not actually used in its making.
The distilled Munbaeju of weak yellowish brown color is 40% alcohol. Yet despite its strength, it does not have any sting but rather diffuses a smooth fragrant flavor in the mouth. Munbaeju is a kind of distilled spirit made of grain though it is very soft compared with other distilled drinks like the betterknown ¡°Soju.¡± Thus, it enjoys great demand from those who prefer lowproof spirits.
Myeoncheon Dugyeonju (Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 86-2)
Dugyeonju is made of azalea petals and another name for azalea is ¡°Dugyeonhwa¡± in Korean. Thus this traditional liquor is called Dugyeonju (Dugyeon means ¡°azalea¡± and ¡°ju¡± means ¡°liquor¡± in Korean). And the traditional drink has its origin in Chungcheong Province.
With a weak yellowish brown color, Dugyeonju is viscous and has a sweet flavoring of azalea. It is about 21% alcohol. Dugyeonju has the effect of stimulating blood circulation, relieving fatigue, and preventing adult diseases by lowering the level of cholesterol. But, it is known that the stamen and pistil of azalea also have toxicity. Thus, these must not be included when the liquor is brewed.
Gyeongju Gyodong Beopju (Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 86-3)
Gyeongju Gyodong Beopju is a traditional drink inherited from the Choi Family Clan who are quietly influential in Gyodong, Gyeongju, and Gyeonsang Province. The inventor of this drink is known as Kuk Jun Choi who worked as ¡°Chambong¡± - a position in ¡°Saongwon¡±- a royal commissary in Choseon Dynasty.
When Beopju is made, the water from a well within the Choi¡¯s house is used and it is famous for its consistent quantity and temperature during all the four seasons, not to mention its good taste. The water is first boiled and then cooled to be used for Beopju.
With native glutinous rice as the main ingredient, Beopju is brewed with water, yeast and rice to become grain wine. This clear Beopju tastes sweet as with a distinctive smell. It is about 16~18% alcohol. For a rich and deep taste, a total of 100 days is taken for brewing, and this can be extended to over one year if the brewing temperature is properly controlled.
Traditional Drinking Etiquette
Koreans offer glasses of liquor to each other as a gesture of camaraderie. When someone offers you an empty liquor glass, you are expected to hold it and receive a fill-up, drink it empty, and in likewise fashion return it to the person who offered it to you. This drinking tradition helps promote close ties around a drinking table.
It is a rule of courtesy for juniors to pour liquor for their seniors. The juniors have to keep paying attention so as not to leave a senior¡¯s glass empty. When senior offers a junior a glass, the junior should receive it with two hands and drink with head turned aside, not facing the senior. It is also the custom to cup the right sleeve with the left hand when pouring drink for a senior.
By Park Ji-Young
BusinessKorea Staff reporter