|According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, people in their 20s and 30s are the main consumers of traditional alcohol. Its consumption has gone up since July 2017 when independent brewers were allowed to sell their products online. Homegrown spirits are popular among young women, the ministry said. / gettyimagesbank|
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Baek Woong-jae's "Hanju, Homegrown Drinks" takes readers to two dozen local breweries across the country which make a variety of homegrown fermented drinks.
With a note describing the taste of each product at the end of each chapter, Baek tells the stories of brewers and their products, detailing how they started their liquor businesses, how long they have produced their drinks and how their products differ from each other and from those of other producers.
Baek's field trip began in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province. The author calls the eastern county the mecca for homegrown spirits.
"Hongcheon is home to the best and most diverse spirits," the book reads, saying over 10 breweries are located in the small rural county. "Water quality there is great and water quantity is enough so the locals have no worries about water shortages… The county is unfamiliar with drought as water is plentiful there."
The author said Hongcheon has emerged as the highest in-demand county for aspiring brewers because of its location and reasonable property prices.
Hongcheon is relatively close to Seoul, compared to other eastern cities, so logistics costs are not a problem for them, he said.
The book, published by Changbi Publishers last week, was released amid soaring demand for traditional alcoholic beverages.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, people in their 20s and 30s are the main consumers of traditional alcohol. Its consumption has gone up since July 2017 when independent brewers were allowed to sell their products online. Homegrown spirits are popular among young women, the ministry said.
The author coins the term "hanju" to refer to traditional Korean traditional drinks of a premium quality.
"Hanju is an alternative term I suggest to replace the term 'jeontong sul' (traditional Korean drinks)," he said.
Baek said he chose to use a new terminology which he said is more accurate than "traditional Korean spirits" because they are much more than simply tradition.
"They were not copied from foreign liquors. They are with us today and people enjoy them now," the book reads.
Baek defines premium hanju as spirits that were made from locally produced ingredients including homegrown yeast "nuruk," and had a long fermentation process before they go on sale.
"They have no other artificial ingredients. Hanju has unique cultural value," the author says.
Baek's brewery tour begins in Hongcheon-based Midam Brewery. It's the only brewery located in downtown Hongcheon, according to him.
"The brewery, which began its business in nearby Yangpyeong County, was relocated to its current place years ago… Its owner is a grandmother who is over 60, and she is the only staffer of the brewery. The one-person brewery has several different spirit labels, such as seoktan-ju (a spirit easy to drink) and songhwa-ju which uses pine tree powder as an ingredient.
"Here everything is handmade…. The brewer, Ms. Midam, is a person of experimentation. She tries every possible method and ingredient to produce her own spirits. Ginger-ju is the product of her ingenuity and it reflects her experimental spirit," the author says.
Quoting the brewer's answer when asked what kind of spirits she is trying to make, the author says the brewery aims to produce premium spirits that can satisfy five senses.
Baek left tasting notes of five Midam Brewery products. Regarding seoktan-ju, the author says it's a standard spirit with an adequate level of sweetness and a savory taste.
"If you want to understand the spirits produced in Midam Brewery, you will want to taste them first and then look into the brewing process to see how they're made," the book reads.
|Baek Woong-jae's "Hanju, Our Spirits" published by Changbi Publishers|
In addition to the breweries and their founders, the author also tells the story of hanju as a business item and its business model. Many brewers find it tough to continue their businesses for marketing and other reasons, so some try to earn a side income by promoting brewery tourism.
Regarding "corporate governance," the author says the "two-generation partnership" based on division of work seems to be an ideal business model. The older generation has knowledge and expertise and their children are digitally aware, so the latter help to sell the products their parents make through social media or other online shopping malls.
Baek is a social media influencer in traditional spirits. He currently runs his own traditional spirit bar in Jumunjin Market in Gangwon Province.