This past week, I was invited to attend a tasting of traditional Korean wines and liquours at The Sool Gallery in Gangnam, Seoul’s glamorous upscale neighborhood. The gallery is dedicated to spreading the cultural context and historical significance of Korean alcohol, making the gallery “a one-stop destination for all things liquor and wine.”
If you have spent any amount of time in Korea, you will certainly have noticed that drinking is a large part of the culture. Soju 소주 ( essentially Korean flavored vodka) is a regular guest at dinner tables, social gatherings, or even simply in the hands of an over-worked businessman on his commute home from work.
The commonly consumed drinks of soju, makgeolli (Korean rice wine) and somaek 소맥 (Soju mixed with Korean beer) are extremely cheap and cheerful. As such, my first perception of the Korean drinking culture was exactly that. This view is shared by Koreans, few of whom know much about the country’s traditional alcohols. Initiatives like The Sool Gallery are being introduced by the Korean Government to raise awareness, and to put Korea on the map as a quality alcohol producer.
Upon arrival at the gallery, we were greeted by our Korean Sommelier who talked us through the process for making Korean wines. It was interesting to learn that the ingredients used and therefore, the drinks made were seasonal due to Korea’s extreme climates.
After the tour, we tasted a selection of traditional Korean alcohols. In order to keep the selection interesting, and fresh for any
alcoholics repeat visitors, the curators select 10-20 new tipples each month, all surrounding a particular theme.
We sampled Makgeolli 막걸리, Yakju 약주, traditional distilled soju 소주, and Korean wines.
The traditional soju 소주 weighs in at 40% proof and tasted completely different to the green bottle soju that you see in stores and bars around Korea. The taste reminded me somewhat of a scotch whiskey and was so strong that it made my eyes water! Apparently the translation for soju is “burning alcohol” which ought to give you a little pre-warning about the taste!
Makgeolli 막걸리 or Korean rice wine is considered the most refreshing Korean alcohol to drink due to its short fermentation time, kept short in order to preserve the flavors. This is far and above my favorite Korean alcohol and if you are new to Seoul then I would certainly recommend heading to one of the traditional Makgeolli houses in Insadong where you can experiment with many different types from the local breweries.
Yakju 약주 is a filtered Takju and comes from the Korean “Yak” meaning medicine. Infused with various aromatic herbs, it has a somewhat spiced taste. This was previously the preferred drink of Nobles.
Many Korean producers are now branching out from the traditional processes and methods and experimenting with more Western-style wines. We trialed an absolutely delicious strawberry infused grape wine, and an omija 오미자 (Korean berry) wine that is the new love of my life. Korean wines are very sweet tasting, much like a European dessert wine.
The gallery is a really beautiful space and the store within offers many ornate looking bottles of wine and drinking accessories.
The tour and tasting took a little over an hour and they are completely free as part of a government incentive (#mykindagovernment).
The Sool Gallery has recently moved from its previous location in Insadong so check the address before you travel as many online resources still refer to the gallery’s old address.
Address: 1F 621-16 Yeoksam-Dong Gangnam-Ku, Seoul (전통주 갤러리, 역삼동621-16) [Gangnam Station, exit 11]
Website: click here (Korean only)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Contact Number: 02-555-2283 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
Opening Times: Open 10am – 8pm Tuesday – Sunday. [Please note, a forward reservation is required via email for the tour and tasting, but if you just want to wander around the gallery and take a look alone then you can just drop by]
Tours: English tours are available at 2pm, or 4pm daily.
Disclaimer: As always, High Heels and a Backpack believes in full transparency when it comes to writing about products and experiences. I am in no way affiliated with The Sool Gallery. I just want to help you build up a great itinerary for your time in Seoul and Korea!