A couple of weekends ago my running partner Star, of 87pages fame, invited me and a few other bloggers to an event being hosted at the Sool Gallery (전통주 갤러리) in Insadong. I’d gone with my dude a while ago, on Star’s recommendation, and we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, so I was looking forward to another trip.
The Sool Gallery is a small space within the government-sponsored Korea Craft & Design Foundation Gallery; it is a small basement-level space with cozy auditorium bench seating and alcohol-lined walls. The Sool Gallery’s focus is to inform customers — foreigners and locals alike — of the history of the four traditional Korean liquors: makgeolli (막걸리), yakju (약주), soju (소주), and traditional Korean wine. After a brief and very informative lesson, we were given the awesome opportunity to taste each type of alcohol.
Makgeolli is considered the freshest alcohol you can drink in Korea due to its short fermentation time (due to a desire to maintain the flavors). It’s cheap and consumed all over the country. It’s far and away my favorite type of alcohol to drink here. It typically has about 6-7% alcohol content.
The name for yakju is derived from the work yak (약), which is Korean for “medicine.” Made from steamed rice, it goes through several fermentation stages involving different aromatic herbs before it’s ready to drink.
Soju (소주) is the most well-known Korean liquor. Directly translated it means “burning alcohol” (which should tell you something about the taste). It’s distilled during production, which helps it to retain its strong flavor. Most Koreans drink a more diluted version of soju, where the alcohol content rests between 12-15%, but the traditional soju is a lot stronger; the one that we got to taste had a whopping 40% alcohol content.
The traditional fruit wines are made with, naturally, different fruits and liquor. Some of the popular wines here are made from maesil plums or raspberries (bokbunja). The sample that we had was quite dry, with an alcohol content of 12%.
What’s the best thing about these events? They’re free. That’s right: they are free.99. The only thing is that you have to make a reservation to go in advance, typically by email; from there they ask your nationality and set up a time for you, presumably so that they’ll have someone there who can properly explain the different liquors in your preferred language.
EDIT: The Sool Gallery has officially moved to its larger space in Gangnam. The new address is below!
If you’re ever in Seoul (and you’re international age 19 and over), this is a place you don’t want to leave off of your must-do list! Many thanks to The Sool Gallery for having us, and to Star for organizing yet another fun event!
전통주 갤러리 – The Sool Gallery
621-16, Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Open: Tuesday ~ Sunday, 10am ~ 8pm
Tasting Times: 1pm, 3pm, 5pm
For tasting reservations, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org