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10/30/2016 HYU News > Culture

Title

Korea's Traditional Soju

Regional Categorization and Features

김주현

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Contents
From the Goryeo Dynasty to now, soju has been one of the most popular alcoholic drink for over seven centuries. Throughout its history, changes in ingredients and recipes have become more distinct according to specific regions around Korea. The distinctive features of traditional soju are different from the commercialized versions that are mass produced. Also, different ingredients, recipes, tastes, and flavors consummate the peculiarities of soju each region possesses.
 
 
Traditional and Modern-Day Soju
 
There are two different ways of producing soju- the traditional and the modern way. The traditional method of concocting soju is the single distillation process to bring forth the fermentation of various grains. This procedure of fermentation includes washing, drying, and crushing wheat, and mixing it with water. Then, it is filtered, fermented, and mixed with hard-boiled rice, which is then placed in a crock for 15 days.
 
Since this distillation procedure accounts for a host of time and monetary investment, many of the soju brands of today prefer the modern method of making soju- the dilution of industrial grade ethanol. Manufacturers purchase the ethanol in quantity, dilute it with water, and fortify sweeteners to it. This manner of soju production claims for a dash of hours and financial support, which capacitates the soju suppliers to mass-produce soju at an inexpensive price.
 
 
Regional Peculiarities of Traditional Soju
 
Traditional soju in Seoul and the Gyeonggi province touts elegance and exclusiveness. Due to their geographical locations, breweries of Seoul and the Gyeonggi province consecrated beverages directly to the royal family and noble bureaucrats. Thus, the quality of soju was material to the producers, resulting in the straitened accessibility to ordinary people. Abiding to Confucian values, the nobles yearned for frugal looks and scents of soju. The most renowned examples are samhae-soju and hyangonju of Seoul, and namhansansung-soju and munbaeju of the Gyeonggi province. The appellation of samhae-soju was entitled because samhae means 3 years in Korean and even the king of Joseon could only procure it once in 3 years, demonstrating its exiguity. Also, hyangonju was famous for its bestowment to the king and to loyal bureaucrats. Both namhansansung-soju and munbaeju are famous for their usage of conventional ingredients. Brewers of namhansansung-soju boiled down grains into taffy and for munbaeju, pears were used for slight sweetness. These are all characterized by their pellucid tint and delicate scents of the melded mung beans and wheat.
 
From left to right, traditional soju of Seoul and the Gyeonggi province: samhae-soju, hyangonju, namhansansung-soju, munbaeju
(Photos courtesy of Seoul Master, Visit Korea, Moonbaesool)


Traditional soju products of the Chungcheong province are generalized by their high-proof alcohol percentage. In order to cover up the bitterness of alcohol, the brewers added omnifarious flowers into soju. The representatives are yeonyupju of Asan, sogokju of Hansan, baekilju of the Gyeryong district, and dugyeonju of Myuncheon. Flowery ingredients include lotus leaves in yeonyupju, azalea leaves in dugyeonju and chrysanthemum stems in baekilju. Also, sogokju of Hansan has its byname of the crippled soju (anjungbangui-sul), due to its sweet taste brought about by fortified taffy made of bee hives.
 
From left to right, traditional soju of the Chungcheong province: yeonyupju, dugyeonju, baekilju, sogokju
(Photos courtesy of Yeousai's Blog, Chungnam Net, Deltaeagle, Sogokjunara)


Furthermore, brewers of the Jeolla province produce traditional soju with exceptional color and taste. Yigangju of the Jeonju district avails itself of various ingredients such as pear, cinnamon, and honey in order to balance out the bitter and sweet taste of soju. Due to the congruous colors of ingredients, yigangju catch drinkers’ sights with its unique yellow hue. Also, hongju of Jindo adds in medicinal herbs called jincho to stain the alcohol red and usage of barley instead of wheat creates the distinctive, deep taste.
 
Traditional soju of the Jeolla province: yogangju and hongju
(Photos courtesy of Umbyeolgung's Blog, TPHolic)



Lastly, the Gyeongsang province boasts the prominence of their traditional soju. The most well-known traditional soju of all, Andong-soju brewed by the historically eminent family -the Kim family of the Andong district- has its own singular recipe. The fermentation and filtering processes that accounts for longer time than any other alcohol in Korea augment the bottomless taste of soju. Andong-soju has a strong percentage of alcohol, 45%, which assembled numbers of devotees beyond the Gyeongsang province.  In addition, gyodongbupju of the Gyeongju district is brewed by another prominent family of Korea- the Choi family of the Gyeongju district. This type of soju is famous for its intricacy and 100-day-long distillation process. Also the drinking etiquette principally designed for gyodongbupju is notorious for its complicated sequence, which draws people in to be fascinated by it.
 
Pictures of brewing traditional soju of the Gyeongsang province: Andong-soju and gyodongbupju 
(Photos courtesy of Chosun News, Korean Cultural Heritage Administration)

 

Values of Traditional Soju
 
Unlike the modern-day soju, simply diluted with water and ethanol, traditional soju possesses its own classical values that bear exclusive recipes and history. With more glimpse into the gravity of traditional soju and a sip of it, it will present astonishment flowered by the time and endeavor spent.




Kim Ju-hyun        kimster9421@hanyang.ac.kr
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