Gastro Tour Seoul’s Brew Master Tour

On October 5th 2015, Gastro Tour Seoul and a team of hungry and thirsty food bloggers from I Ate My Way Through took on GTS’s Brew Master Tour. The Brew Master tour covers two breweries in Seoul’s Bukchon and Insa-dong region – the older part of the city located north of the Han river – ending in a full, traditional Korean-style feast to soak up the alcohol!

The first stop on the Brew Master Tour is a visit to Kim Taek Sang of the Bukchon Heritage Studio – a small, well-preserved Hanok house in which Mr Kim brews and distills alcohol, using methods passed down through 10 generations of family on his mother’s side. Mr Kim is designated Seoul’s Intangible National Treasure number 8, and a visit to his studio is both a unique and special chance to experience a traditional, and increasingly rare aspect of Korean drinking culture.

Mr Kim offers up to 3~4 types of traditional Korean alcohol for Brew Master Tour guests to try, ranging from the relatively mild Korean rice wine, ‘Makgeolli’, to much stronger variants of Korea’s national liquor ‘Soju’.

Both makgeolli and soju consist of three basic ingredients – whole wheat/yeast, rice, and water. During the fermenting process, the liquid formed by these three ingredients separates, with the thick residue at the bottom resulting in Mr Kim’s Samhaeju Makgeoli, and the clear liquid which rises to the top making the slightly thinner, stronger and sharper-tasting Yakju. After thirty days, the Yakju is removed, and can either be consumed as it is, or further distilled using a steam method (the apparatus for which is also available for guests to see) to make Soju. Soju is traditionally distilled on the Korean calendar’s Day of the Pig, because pig blood is the clearest of all, and tradition dictates that this will help the resulting liquor to be crystal clear, too. The Makgeolli is fermented for a further two months, or total of 120 days, before being removed and bottled.

Another variant created by Mr Kim is ‘Yihwaju’ (Yihwa meaning ‘Pear Flower’) – a type of makgeolli which sees gingseng, jujubes, cinnamon, licorice, ginger, and arrowroot added to the Makgeolli base for a thick, spicy, tasty drink.

Guests on the Brew Master Tour can taste all of these varieties of traditional Korean alcohol, see up-close the ways in which they are made, and hear first-hand Mr Kim’s tips and tricks of the trade.

The second-stop on the Brew Master Tour is a lunch feast with Makgeolli, at a nearby restaurant run by brew master Park Jeong-Chul. Mr Park is well-known in Seoul for both the quality of his home-brewed makgeolli, and the amazing spread of food he offers to guests.

Mr Park’s Makgeolli is fermented for more than 100 days to make it the purest and highest of quality. Brew Master Tour attendees can also enjoy a feast of fried and battered vegetables (‘twigim’, similar to tempura), chapchae, bulgogi, kimchi, tofu, seafood broth, and a wealth of colorful, fresh side dishes, or ‘banchan’, all washed down with Mr Park’s infamous, creamy Makgeolli.

Veronica Kang