Korean Alcohol / 酒 / 주 / 술


Korea has some interesting wines and liquors. The most popular and well-known is of course soju (소주), but there are plenty of others. If soju is a bit harsh tasting for you, try baekseju (백세주), which has a subtle taste of herbs and is a bit, well, posher than soju.

You may have noticed a lot of these alcohols have names ending in -주 (Hanja character 酒). This means alcohol, but the general word for 'alcohol' in everyday speech is 술.

My personal favorite on this list is 매화수. It's a very sweet and girly one, but don't be fooled - At 14% proof it's as strong as a good wine, if not stronger. You may have come across the Japanese version called Umeshu or 'Plum wine' in Japanese restaurants, and although Jinro 매화수 is one popular brand, there are many other versions of Korean green plum wines. One of them is Lotte 설중매 (雪中梅, not pictured), which is cool because it's sold with real green plums in the bottom of the bottle, but I don't like the taste as much as 매화수. Yet another of these plum wines is Bohae 매취순 (pictured).

One more alcohol I want to mention is 복분자 wine. 복분자 is a kind of Korean blackberry or raspberry, and 복분자 juice is also popular. Personally I think it tastes a bit icky, but each to their own. The fruity flavour is pretty overpowering.

There are, of course, so many other wines and liquors in Korea, and that's not even mentioning Korean beer (맥주) or 막걸리 (makgeolli) - which merit their own post. By far one of the worst things I ever tasted in Korea was '녹차주', or 'Green Tea Wine', which was a novelty in the gift shop at Boseong tea fields. On the other hand, one of the most amazing and magical I tasted was 인삼주 (Ginseng wine), which I tried at a fantastic 삼계탕 restaurant in 명동. Ginseng has a very distinct taste, but it's known less for its taste and more for its medicinal effects and ... invigorating ... health benefits. It certainly is unusual.

With such a hearty drinking culture, it's no wonder that Korea seems to have alcohols made out of pretty much everything. Although cheap and cheerful soju dominates the market, why not give some of these others a go? Just don't drink too much!

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