Before arriving in Korea, all I had ever heard about drinking in Korea was that I was going to be imbibing plenty of soju. But that was actually the very last drink I had in the country, for Korea is a land of many good beverages.
Beyond Soju: Korean Craft Beer, Makgeolli, and Moju
We should begin with the newest: Korean craft beer. For years, the Korean people have been forced to drink terrible pale lagers from two awful companies, the lowly Hite and OB, which connotes the wrong sort of yeast product for Western drinkers. But after a few restrictions were lifted last April, a few microbreweries have popped up around the country, putting out some quality IPAs and stouts. The Hand and Malt, Galmegi, and Ark are some of the best, while brewpubs like Magpie, which currently brew out of borrowed facilities as they await their Jeju Island brewery to open, already produce quality beer. (Here’s a piece that I wrote for Roads and Kingdoms and Slate on the Korean craft beer industry in Korea.)
When thinking traditional drinks, rice-distilled soju should actually be second to the much more flavorful makgeolli, which is a rice drink brewed using yeast and water. Because it consists of only three ingredients, it’s really a challenge to get the right balance of bitterness and flavor. But when this temperature-dependent drink is done right, it’s as refreshing as a beer. And when enjoyed at a place that specializes in makgeolli, the drinking vessels are a bit more fun than pint glasses and pitchers, too.
One makgeolli-derived after-dinner drink is moju, which is essentially makgeolli on spice. After the makgeolli ferments, adding in cinnamon, licorice, ginger, and dates to the mix, and then sugar a bit later on, makes for a quality dessert drink. It’s not common around the country and can really only be enjoyed in Jeonju City.