KOREAN NAME: 천비향 약주
THOUGHTS: Two years ago, I started branching out from makgeolli, looking for what sool lay beyond. One of my first finds on this foray was a cheongju called Gotaek Chapssal Saengju, and simply put, I was blown away. Gotaek rapidly became a staple on nights out: boozy, tasty, and infinitely drinkable.
And then the brewery disappeared seemingly overnight. Update: And then the brewery changed it’s website.
New as I was to these other types of sool, I’m not sure if Gotaek really was as earth-shattering as I made it out to be. But since then, I’ve been looking for a cheongju that can live up to my nostalgia and Cheonbihyang Yakju might very well be that bottle.
I did not expect to like it as much as I did given the scent. It reminded me straight off of Soola Soongokju: honeyed, butterscotch, and sweeeet! But, as I’ve already alluded, Cheonbihyang Yakju has a sophisticated balance of the sweet, sharp, bitter, and boozy. The taste of wheaty nuruk is a clear through line for all these flavors but, rather than overpowering its counterparts, it provides the anchor that binds them all together. It is this balanced package that makes Cheonbihyang Yakju, much like Gotaek of old, a cheongju that you can drink for days.
A quick side note on the terminology…
I believe I’ve mentioned this elsewhere but the terms yakju and cheongju are used somewhat interchangeably in Korean brewing. From what I understand, and this is by no means something I can say with any certainty, yakju is the term preferred by Koreans. Cheongju may (or may not!) have been a Japanese influenced or enforced term so it seems to retain negative connotations. Oddly enough, foreigners knowledgeable about brewing and the sool world in general seem to prefer the term cheongju. Yakju literally translates as “medicinal liquor” and, as such, yakju tends to describe a wide range of liqueurs, some familiar tipples that are widely lauded and adored and some horrible abominations that fit more into that Korean double-dare booze I’ve described in previous posts. Thus, foreigners’ negative connotations for yakju.
Once again, this is totally my own perception of the issue and I may be (no doubt, am) way, way off base. If you know better or have a better explanation, please share!
Appearance: Typical cheongju straw-yellow.
Smell: Sweet, sharp, boozy, and a hint of butterscotch.
Body: Light, not syrupy.
SCORE: Highly Recommended
BREWERY: Joeunsul (좋은술)
The site does not reflect the new bottle and label designs.
REGION: Gyeonggi-do, Pyeongtaek (경기도, 평택시)
AVAILABILITY: You can order a bottle from their site but you will have to create a login ID. Alternatively, I believe you can order over the phone: 031.681.8929. Cheonbihyang Yakju costs ₩25,000.
ALCOHOL CONTENT: 16%
INGREDIENTS: Pyeongtaek new rice (55.35%), purified water (42.44%), nuruk (2.21%)
VOLUME: 500 ml
PASTEURIZED: No (6-month shelf life)
OTHER FACTS: Joeunsul has a large line of products, including makgeollis and takjus, Heads up: They also sell this yakju in a 350 ml bottle for ₩20,000 but it has a different label.