This past weekend my husband and I picked up one of our good friends and traveled about an hour south of Seoul to one of our favorite breweries, Jeoheun Sool. It is known for producing yakju and takju that undergoes a long fermentation and aging process. The brewery recently moved from its original location in Uiwang to a new facility in Pyeongtaek and the (appropriately named) part of town called Aged/Matured Village (Suksong).
Jeoheun Sool makes Cheon Bi Hyang, which stands for “The Scent of a Thousand Rains” and comes in two styles, a clear yakju and a cloudy takju. Cheon Bi Hyang is well known for being an “ohyangju” which means it undergoes a five-step fermentation process. After filtering it is allowed to age for at least six months before it is sold. Recently, the brewery has been extending the line up of alcohols that it produces and has begun making a low proof makgeolli and soju as well.
Jeoheun Sool is a great example of a Korean brewery that is surviving the times and successfully creating a business that can be maintained by the generations to come. When the original brewer became too old to carry on, the family took over and moved the brewery to Pyeongtaek. There, a community of people came together to expand the business. When we visited we met Lee Yehroung, who was a wonderful host and provided us with a very generous lunch. (Really it was so thoughtful and generous of her and we are so very thankful.) She explained how everyone was working together to expand the line up of alcohols that they produce and learning more about the marketing end of the business. Her daughter recently graduated from the same Korean alcohol sommelier program that my husband and I are attending. She ran down the new line up and showed us around the facilities.
One of the most interesting new brews they are producing is a low proof makgeolli, Sool Yehpphuda or “Pretty Sool”, that is made with hongguk rather than nuruk. Hongguk is a fermentation started much like nuruk. It is well known for being used in China, but many people might not know that it used in Korea as well to make alcohol and bread. It is made from rice that is coated in the red fungus, Monascus, which gives hongguk its distinctive red color. Using hongguk gives the alcohol a different taste than that of nuruk which can be a bit earthy tasting. The drink is smooth and sweet with notes of apple and yogurt. I love everything fungal so it’s nice to see more people using different types of fungus to brew with these days.
They also have two sojus which far surpass the old green bottles. The first is a 40% soju and the second is a 53% soju. Both are made with rice, nuruk, and water. I prefer the 53 % one as it has a little bit more character than the 40% one and goes down just as smoothly.
An exciting thing that Lee told us about was a new line up of hibiscus alcohol that they were preparing to roll out in August. The release date is August 15th which is the same day as Liberation Day in Korea. Since hibiscus is the nation flower of Korea, it is fitting to pay homage to this historical date by releasing their hibiscus line-up among which includes an 8.15% alcohol makgeolli. We were lucky enough to taste test some hibiscus soju that they were working on and it was beautiful.
The facility is beautiful inside and out and surrounded by picturesque rice fields. The connection between the brewery and the rice fields is reminiscent of wineries proximity to the vineyard and signals the direction that Korean alcohol will go in the future. One that is focused on local ingredients and community. One of the anecdotes that my husband loves to tell is about the town of Icheon, where he was born. Icheon is famous for producing rice and his grandmother, to this day, farms rice there. Right across from her farm is a makgeolli brewery that produces makgeolli labeled “Icheon Makgeolli”. But instead of using it’s famous Icheon rice they used imported rice. These days there is a movement away from using imported rice and more breweries are using only locally grown rice. At Jeoheun Sool they use local Pyeontaek rice. There is even an effort to develop a Korean alcohol classification system, similar to the AOC system in France, based on where the brewery is located and what region’s rice they are using. All of these things are promising developments that hopefully will lead to better quality alcohol and to Korean Alcohol being more accepted globally.
Our visit to Jeoheun Sool was wonderful and made me very hopeful about the direction that Korean alcohol will go in the future.