The origin of Korean wines has an historical story. According to legend (a myth that appears in Jewang-Ungi, 帝王韻紀, a historical book), a long time ago there was a king who enjoyed alcohol to tempt woman to want to have many children. When their son was born, they named him "Sul." The word sul (hangul: 술) came from a Chinese character. This is divided between su (hangul: 수; hanja: 水) and bul (hangul: 불; hanja: 火). Su means water and bul means fire, that is, "firewater" originated from the boiling liquid. It should be noted that this is popular etymology at best.
The production and demand for traditional Korean wines and liquors declined sharply beginning during the Japanese colonial period. In 1986, in an effort to remedy this situation, the Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea selected 86 varieties of traditionally brewed alcoholic beverages as "cultural properties," with twelve types selected as "Important Intangible Cultural Properties," each hailing from its own locality.
In Korea, the major crop has historically been rice, and thus most Korean traditional alcoholic beverages have been made from rice, of both the glutinous and non-glutinous variety, which are fermented with the aid of yeast. Additionally, Koreans often use fruits, flowers, herbs, and other ingredients to flavor these beverages, to a much greater extent than Chinese wines.
There are six main types of Korean alcoholic beverages: yakju, distilled liquors (including soju), takju, fruit wines, flower wines, and medicinal wines.
Yakju (hangul: 약주; hanja: 藥酒; lit. "medicinal alcohol") is a refined rice wine made from steamed rice that has gone through several fermentation stages. It is also called myeongyakju or bapju, and is distinguished from takju by its relative clarity.
Cheongju (hangul: 청주; hanja: 淸酒; lit. "clear wine" or "clear liquor") is a clear rice wine similar to Japanese sake. One popular brand of cheongju is Chung Ha (청하), which is widely available at Korean restaurants. There are various local variations, including beopju, which is brewed in the ancient city of Gyeongju.
Korean distilled liquors include goryangju (hangul: 고량주; hanja: 高梁酒; also spelled koryangju; made from sorghum and similar to Chinese gaoliang jiu); and okroju (hangul: 옥로주; hanja: 玉露酒; made from rice and Job's Tears). Another variety, called munbaeju (문배주), has the distinction of being South Korea's "Important Intangible Cultural Property Number 86-1. Munbaeju is a traditional aged distilled liquor made of malted millet, sorghum, wheat, rice, and nuruk (fermentation starter), with a strength of 40 percent alcohol by volume. It originates in the Pyongyang region of North Korea and is noted for its fragrance, which is said to resemble the flower of the munbae tree (similar to a pear).
Soju (hangul: 소주; hanja: 燒酒), a clear, slightly sweet distilled spirit, is by far the most popular Korean liquor. It is made from grain or sweet potatoes and is generally inexpensive. It typically has an alcohol content of 40 proof (20% alc. by volume). There is a version with top notch ingredients distilled using traditional methods that hails from the city of Andong. This version has the gov't protection/regulation seal and is 90 to 100 proof, as Andong has historically been known as a fine soju center among other things. While all soju in Korea are priced almost identically (inexpensively as previously mentioned), Andong soju commands more than 20 times that price. It is the cognac to commercial soju's vin du pays. In the late 20th century soju flavored with lemon or green tea became available. The Japanese version is called Shōchū.
Takju (hangul: 탁주; hanja: 濁酒), better known as makgeolli (막걸리), is a milky, off-white, sweet alcoholic beverage made from rice. It is also called nongju (hangul: 농주; hanja: 農酒; lit. "farmers' alcohol"). A regional variant, originally from Gyeonggi-do, is called dongdongju. Another variety, called ihwaju (hangul: 이화주; hanja: 梨花酒; literally "pear blossom wine") was so named because it was brewed from rice with rice malt that had fermented during the pear blossom season. Ihwaju is often so thick that it must be eaten with a spoon.
Korea has a number of traditional fruit wines, produced by combining fruits or berries with alcohol. Podoju (포도주) is made from rice wine that is mixed with grapes. The most popular fruit wines are made from maesil plums (such wine called maesilju, mae hwa su, mae chui soon, or Seol Joong Mae), bokbunja (복분자; Korean black raspberries, 15% alcohol), Chinese quinces, cherries, pine fruits, and pomegranates.
There are a number of Korean traditional wines produced from flowers. These include wines made from chrysanthemums (gukhwaju, 국화주, marketed by Jinro as Chun Kook),photo 1photo 2 acacia flowers, maesil blossoms (maehwaju, 梅花酒), peach blossoms (dohwaju, 桃花酒), honeysuckle (indongju), wild roses, and sweet briar petals and berries.
Dugyeonju (두견주) is a wine made from azalea petals, produced in Chungcheong Province. It is sweet, viscous, and light yellowish brown in color, with a strength of about 21% alcohol. Myeoncheon Dugyeonju is designated by the South Korean government as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 86-2.
Another variety of flower wine, called baekhwaju (hangul: 백화주; hanja: 白花酒), is made from 100 varieties of flowers.
Medicinal liqueurs, called yagyongju (약용주) are produced by combining medicinal seeds, herbs, and roots with alcohol.
- Insamju (인삼주), made with ginseng, is the most popular medicinal wine among older people.
- Dosoju (hangul: 도소주; hanja: 屠蘇酒) is a popular herbal wine, traditionally served only on New Year's Day.
- Songsunju (hangul: 송순주; hanja: 松筍酒) is soju made with glutinous rice and soft, immature pine cones or sprouts.
- Ogalpiju (오갈피주) is made from the bark of Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus blended with soju and sugar.
- Jugyeopcheongju (hangul: 죽엽청주; hanja: 竹葉青酒) is a traditional liquor made with bamboo leaves.
- Chuseongju (hangul: 추성주; also spelled chusungju) is a traditional wine made from glutinous and non-glutinous rice, herbs including omija (Schisandra chinensis) and Eucommia ulmoides; it is commercially available in a bamboo-shaped bottle.
- Daeipsul (대잎술) is another traditional folk wine from Damyang County, South Jeolla Province, made from glutinous rice, brown rice, and bamboo leaves, along with ten medicinal herbs.
- Bek Se Ju (Baekseju; hangul: 백세주; hanja: 百歲酒; literally "100 years wine") is a commercial variant of medicinal wine, and is the most popular medicinal wine for younger people, who generally do not drink it primarily for its medicinal properties. It has become a popular alternative to soju in most restaurants and drinking establishments. It is a rice wine infused with ginseng and eleven other herbs, including licorice, omija (Schisandra chinensis), gugija (Chinese wolfberry), astragalus, ginger, and cinnamon, and is 13% alcohol.
- Sansachun (산사춘) is another commercial Korean wine made from the red fruits of the sansa, or Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida). The Bae Sang Myun Brewery Company markets this wine, claiming therapeutic effects.
- Yuju or mayuju (hangul: 마유주; hanja: 馬乳酒), which is made from fermented horse milk, was introduced to Korea from Mongolia. It is similar to kumis.
- "History of Korean Alcoholic Drinks"
- Traditional Korean alcohol
- "Drinks of the Ancients"
- Shrine to Spirits: Chiew and soju
- Korean alcoholic beverages
- Korean Traditional Sool
- Regional Korean liquors