|Visitors can sample artisan Kim Taek-sang’s Samhae makgeolli (from left to right), yakju and soju at Bukchon Heritage Studio. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
In Seoul’s historic neighborhood of Bukchon, visitors can experience a centuries-old tradition.
Artisan Kim Taek-sang continues his family’s legacy of brewing the capital’s storied Samhaeju, a Korean alcoholic beverage whose history goes as far back as the Goryeo Kingdom.
At Bukchon Heritage Studio, which opened in Gahoe-dong this April, visitors can sample Kim’s brews and learn about Samhaeju.
According to Kim, it was during the Joseon period that the art of Samhaeju developed by leaps and bounds and became of the most famed alcoholic beverages of the time.
|Seoul Intangible Cultural Asset No. 8 initiate Kim Taek-sang carries on the centuries-old tradition of brewing Samhaeju. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
“It was popular in Hanyang,” said Kim, 62, referring to the old name for Seoul, where the royal court, high-ranking officials and nobles resided.
Kim noted that because rice was a prized commodity in the past, “Samhaeju was enjoyed by aristocrats,” elaborating that because it was a lengthy three-step process that required a relatively large quantity of rice, it was considered a high-end drink.
Kim’s ancestors have been making Samhaeju since the Joseon era, handing the recipe down each generation until his mother became the holder of the Seoul Intangible Cultural Asset No. 8 title for Samhae Soju in the 1990s.
To ensure the continuance of his family’s longstanding mastery of Samhaeju, Kim became an initiate for the title three decades ago.
As the future holder of the Samhae Soju master title, Kim knows how to make all three varieties of Samhaeju, including makgeolli and yakju, which form the foundation for soju.
“It is made from only three ingredients ― rice, whole wheat nuruk (yeast) and water,” said Kim.
According to Kim, it takes 120 days to complete the process of making Samhae makgeolli, yakju and soju.
Once crafted in the winter when the temperature was naturally low, the practice of fermenting the alcohol at relatively cold temperatures for an extensive period of time continues and this is what gives Samhaeju its definitive characteristics.
“Fermenting alcohol at low temperatures gives the liquor a depth of flavor and a long-lingering aftertaste,” said Kim.
Kim explained how once the alcohol has aged an appropriate amount of time, the cloudy wine at the bottom becomes makgeolli while the clear alcohol on top becomes yakju. The yakju is then distilled to make soju.
“Only one-fifth of the original amount remains after it has been distilled,” Kim said, stressing that Samhae Soju is precious because it can only be produced in small quantities at a time.
As clear as water, Kim’s Samhae Soju is redolent of licorice. One sip unearths its fiery heat and the sweet aftertaste of rice. It is a delicate yet potent liquor, elegant and fragrant.
In addition to Samhaeju, Kim also uses his Samhae makgeolli to craft another traditional Korean beverage, Moju.
According to Kim, the concoction first found its roots as a pragmatic way to use up the remaining bits of rice from when Korean wine was made.
Now it enjoys a reputation as a healthy beverage that is made with makgeolli and various medicinal herbs.
Kim makes his Moju with ginseng, jujubes, cinnamon, arrowroot, licorice, ginger and Samhae makgeolli.
“One feels energized after drinking Moju,” said Kim.
Spiced and rich with the scent of cinnamon and ginger and sweet from the jujubes, the Kim’s Samhae Moju is neither a tea nor a libation but somewhere in the middle, a drink that combines all the fragrant sweetness one can find in traditional Korean beverages along with the slight malty tang characteristic of makgeolli.
In addition to Moju, visitors can taste Samhae makgeolli, yakju and soju and also purchase them at the Bukchon Heritage Studio’s small, six-table cafe.
Starting Sept. 14, Kim said, classes on Samhaeju will be held. The studio, which is housed in a renovated hanok that was originally built in 1935, also holds a monthly Food Artisan Program.
After sipping on some Samhae soju or other drinks, visitors can also view the bimonthly art exhibitions held in the studio.
“We hope this studio becomes a gathering spot for artisans that specialize in everything from crafts to food,” said Bukchon Heritage Studio president Kim Dong-hwan.
Bukchon Heritage Studio
|The Bukchon Heritage Studio, which opened in Gahoe-dong, Seoul, in April (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)|
● 31-14 Gahoe-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul/ 070-8834-8401
● Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
● Samhae Moju costs 5,000 won, Samhaeju Tasting Set of makgeolli, yakju and soju cost 10,000 won
By Jean Oh (email@example.com