A third year of the blog (THIRD!) has come and gone, making it time for the obligatory anniversary post. You may have noticed this year’s post is coming a couple weeks late as there has been a big development in my life: I’ve left Korea and returned to my native desert!
It’s a sad place where most furrow their brows when they hear the word makgeolli, let alone the names of all the other amazing Korean sool. And the knife was further twisted when my own mother remarked, “You’re still doing that soju blog?!” Ah, well… At least she was in the ballpark.
Anyway, I don’t intend to stop posting and I sure as hell don’t intend to start reviewing soju unless I am either very, very drunk or absolutely desperate.
But obviously there will be some changes. Most notably, I won’t be doing any reviews in the foreseeable future, other than the one or two I have waiting on sool-review layaway. And, as a consequence, I’ll no doubt be posting a bit less.
With reviews gone, the two main focuses going forward will be reposting sool-related news articles and chronicling my brewing experiences. Of course, the challenges of living outside of Korea might make brewing more difficult but I’m going to see how I get on.
I had grand hopes for the second year of the blog and, to be honest, it was my most lackluster to date. No excuses here: I just got lazy. Still, I drank some incredible brews, visited two amazing makgeolli houses, had a few happy successes with my brews, and read some informative articles. In case you missed one of these posts or just want a look back, here are the ones that feature the best of the best.
I’ve known about all these brews for quite some time so reviewing them at some point was more fait accompli than new find. However, I really did readers (and myself! – after all, I’m the one who gets to drink them) a disservice in not reviewing these bottles sooner. If you are in Korea, you absolutely MUST hunt these bottles down or, at least, try something from these brewers. Without any hyperbole, they are on a very short list of the best Korea has to offer.
Midam Brewery: Yeonyeob Saeng Takju
- I’m not sure if Midam would call this her signature brew but I will. For a brew that is infused with lotus leaves, Yeonyeob Saeng Takju’s magic is ineffable.
Ye-sul Brewery: Mangang-e Bichin Dal
- As improbable as it sounds to give a sweet-pumpkin infused brew a Highly Recommended rating, Mangang-e Bichin Dal easily deserves a spot on this list.
Joeunsul Brewery: Cheonbihyang Yakju
- See below.
Jaheehyang Brewery: Gookhwaju
- It’s hard to decide who has the better cheongju, Joeunsul or Jaheehyang. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to choose. Get them both; drink them often!
Despite always wanting to visit more makgeolli houses, I have had a difficult time rousing drinking partners: Mrs. Takjoo is a light weight (despite the family name) while my friends are easily lured away by the promise of Noksapyeong’s blossoming craft beer scene. Still, I was able to review two houses that are both spectacular in their own ways.
Makgeolli Hakkyo (Seoul, Isu Station)
- This is a Seoul mainstay, both because they’ve got their finger on the pulse of good brews and because they’ve bucked the Korean obsession with ‘luxury’ and instead made Makgeolli Hakkyo a neighborhood joint that is cozy and down-to-earth.
Jeongleejuga (Gwangju, Culture Complex Station)
- Any time I take a trip out of Seoul, I always look to see if I can find a decent joomak. Jeongleejuga is the sort of place that is beyond my wildest expectations. It exudes urbane chic, the food is some of the best I’ve tasted from a modern Korean restaurant, and the sool curation, while not exactly wide-ranging, is well maintained. Be aware, however, that this is a bit of a fancy night out and the bill will reflect it.
In terms of homebrewing, all I have to show blog-wise for the last year is two entries. I did put together several more brews but I didn’t write about them as they were recipes I’ve already written about or they were for classes I took at Susubori Academy. I don’t write about the latter because I want to encourage everyone to take classes at Susubori if possible. It’s definitely a shame, though, because one of the best things I’ve ever brewed was a lotus-leaf wonju for a Susubori class. If you want to watch me embarrass myself on youtube, you can check out The Sool Company video recorded directly after we finished straining our brews.
Anyway, back to the brews I did write about:
- These days, big breweries are trying to snag a younger demographic with fruit infusions. This might be good in yogurt but are makgeolli aberrations, in my opinion. But Podoju, or grape liquor, is a fruit-infused makgeolli recipe that dates back at least to the 1600s when Jang Gye-hyang wrote the Eumsikdimibang, a Korean cookbook that includes several sool recipes.
- All right. So this goes against everything I said about not writing up repeat recipes. But, since my first Seoktanju was a failure and second a delicious success, it was well worth a rewrite.
- Exciting news about changes in liquor production laws that allow small-time brewers to start producing and selling on the open market.
- Video featuring the nicest man in makgeolli: the head brewer of Seoul’s own Samhae Soju-ga.
- …he remains a legendary figure worthy of song, a modern-day Candyman handing out cheap booze. And we don’t even know his name.
- The one where we first heard promises of makgeolli coops popping up all over Seoul. I still desperately want to believe this will come true.
Thanks again to everyone who takes time out of their day to read a post or two. Hopefully the changes to the site aren’t too drastic and you continue to get something out of Takjoo Journals!