KOREAN NAME: 송화주 약주
REVIEW: From reading my review of Midam Yeonyeob Seoktanju, it’s clear that I am an unapologetic fan of Midam’s sool. After all, there’s a lot to appreciate. She runs a family owned and operated brewery dedicated to making small batches of high-end brews that are all variations on the juk, or porridge, recipe technique. Also, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org—no joke. So, on the rare occasions I am fortunate enough to encounter her, I always want to grab a couple bottles: one to share so I can do the good work of making other Midam converts and another to selfishly savor on my own. Songhwaju was this second kind of bottle.
While Yeonyeob’s wrinkle in the juk is lotus leaf, Songhwaju’s special ingredient is pine needles. Now, immediately, you’re thinking you sense a double-dare booze. The flavor must be dipped in pine resin or have a harsh, wood-alcohol burn. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Songhwaju would be more likely to draw comparisons with a Riesling.
First off, I should say that this is a yakju (also referred to as cheongju), which means that the clear alcohol has been separated from the takju sediment, the stuff that gives makgeolli it’s turbid white quality. This is the nectar Kings of Korean past would down at a repast because it was pure and untainted. Even the name yakju literally translates to “medicinal liquor”, something that would make you a little more right than you’re normally corrupt self.
It’s no surprise then that Songhwaju has a quite delicate body. (One more, please!) And then you turn the bottle around and you’re blown away this stuff has a 16% ABV. It must be the sugar. Like I said, the closest association I can make here is to a dessert wine. The sweetness of the brew is noticeable instantaneously and leaves a sort of ringing note on the back of the tongue. But, unlike all those sickly sweet, aspartame brews, Songhwaju is more akin to a mango or some other kind of overly sweet fruit.
Ultimately, I really enjoy drinking a glass or two of Songhwaju but then I can put it back in the fridge and leave it there for a while; unlike Midam Yeonyeob, I certainly couldn’t finish a whole bottle in a sitting.
Appearance: Translucent ochre.
Smell: Butterscotch all the way to the bank and a bit of alcohol to boot. Also, something reminiscent of a white dessert wine.
Body: Extremely light. On your tongue one second and gone the next.
BREWERY: Midam Brewery Co. (미단 양조장)
ORIGIN: Gangwon-do, Hoengcheon-gun (강원도, 홍천군)
PURCHASED: 14th Wines & Spirits Expo 2016
AVAILABILITY: It’s possible you’ll come across it here and there but you’ll most likely have to order direct from the website.
ALCOHOL CONTENT: 16%
INGREDIENTS: 100% Korean non-glutinous rice, 100% Korean glutinous rice, pine needle powder, nuruk, purified water
VOLUME: 500 ml
PASTEURIZED: No (Shelf-life 120 days)