YNKUWT: Traditional Alcohols

YNKUWT You’ll Never Know Until We Try – Traditional Korean Alcohols (well, some of them).

The traditional section of our local supermarket

We bought 6 traditional alcohols that we had never tried before, busted out two shotglasses and got brave. First up was Sansachun…


13%  – $3.03 – rice, yeast, cornus fruit, hawthorn berry


We didn’t know what a cornus fruit was. We looked it up – it’s some kind of cranberry-like fruit that grows on the deciduous dogwood plant.

The internet says this alcohol  is a “yakju” which is a medicinal alcohol (sometimes made from steamed rice which makes it more glutinous). The medicinal properties come from the hawthorn berry which WebMD said is “POSSIBLY SAFE” for adults.

Packaging – is it clear what it is?

It is the same color as plum wine and it was next to the plum wine but it’s not plum wine. There’s something in English that says “with well balanced combination of aroma and flavor is the perfect wine for you”  But that’s not helpful.

Chris is smarter so he reads the Korean which tells us it’s made with American corn. So this traditional drink is made with outsider corn. This is a bit surprising.


Smells fruity but also like decay. Or maybe cheese. I have never smelled anything like this, especially not a drink.


Surprisingly, and horrifying it tastes like it smells. Like fruit smothered over WalMart’s cheapest cheese.

Final Thoughts -0/5 would not drink again

It smells and tastes like parmesan. This is very unexpected. This is supposed to be cranberry-like, with a bunch of old steamed fermented rice, where is the cheese coming from?

“Master of ceremonies”  SunMi “Gallery”

This didn’t translate at all.

13% – .85 cents – rice based (?)


The translation told us Master of Ceremonies but it also said “SunMi fermented, rice 100% the highest traditional fermented Gallery” Gallery is capitalized. Huh.

Packaging – is it clear what it is?

No. It has some  Chinese characters on it. Because it’s a green bottle we guessed  it was soju which is the official alcohol of Korea (it’s like sake from Japan or vodka from Russia)


Smells like cake batter with too much artificial butter flavor.


Tastes a bit like that but more muted. Chris thinks it’s actually decent. I’m just more confused as to what it is.

We look it up online again and see people adding it to beer. It’s possible we’re drinking some kind of add-in, mixer, liqueur or bitters.

Chris is smart again and reads that it says yakju – so it’s medicinal. It’s no longer possible we’re sipping on bitters but rather  liquid daily vitamin.

Final Thoughts 2/5

We have absolutely no idea what that was.

Daejeon “Generated” Maekgeolli

7% – .95 cents – rice based, with aspartame

Makgeolli was something we saw online a lot before coming to Korea. Everyone said it was so great. We were crushed to find it’s really not. We’ve tried different brands, different styles, and some flavored like strawberry. It’s not our thing.

We’ve never had this particular brand which translated as “Daejeon Generated Makgeolli” So it’s local. DSC04981

It should be a rice-base but it’s possible it has corn, chestnut, or apple. It’s really difficult to find one without aspartame which is, again, not traditional, but we’ll let that go.

The bottle said yeast which the internet didn’t even mention as a possibility. The Daejeon specialty might be yeast.

Packaging – is it clear what it is?

Yes, most makgeolli is sold in a white bottle so we knew.  The actual drink is white like milk. So it’s advertising itself on the outside.


Smells sweeter than all the others.


It tastes a lot better but then you get hit by the aftertaste. Or rather the after-mouth-feel when you realize you just drank the chalky remains of a thousand grains of rice.  Makgeolli literally translates to “recklessly filtered.” It’s precisely that – it’s mostly rice residue.

Final Thoughts 

If this was actually filtered it would be good. If I hated my Britta Pitcher I would just filter it in a non-reckless manner.

This seems to be a common theme in Korean cuisine – taking something and half-finishing it. There’s always some kind of soup that has choke-able-sized-bones hiding in it, or you buy a piece of fried and breaded fish with all the bones still in, and there is always recklessly cut tops of carrots or basically-vegetable-trash still in most soups. Chefs don’t take what we would consider to be necessary steps. The bone thing would be intolerable in a restaurant in the US but here they say “well why would the chef take the bones out!? That’s the customers job” So in a way, I wonder if we’re actually meant to finish making the alcohol ourselves.

So we do. Chris strains it unsuccessfully through a coffee filter.  What little he gets through (it’s that chalky) tastes better.


Final Final Thoughts -2/5

We still don’t like Makgeolli.

Baekseju – 100 Years Wine

13% – $3.11 – rice based with ginseng

Baekseju has a story behind it that if you drink it every day you’ll live to be 100. The real question is if that would be worth it.


Packaging – is it clear what it is?

We read the label “Korean Traditional Wine Since 1992” which in a weird way completely summarizes everything you need to know about Korea. A misunderstanding of the word “tradition” and what it truly means especially when you’re using American corn (again). 1992 is not something to be proud of when it’s a traditional alcohol that has existed since the 1600s.


Smells like ditch spirit.

Like an overgrown ditch. It smells like weeds, wet, moldy, damp, rotten weeds. Pungent earthy weirdness from too many weeds mixed with the minerals of ditch water.

Almost nothing wants me to raise the glass to my lips and drink. This is a foul stench. The longer the bottle is open the more the smell permeates the area.


Chris is still describing the smell so I get to listen to “dirty salad… the basement of City Market where the vegetables go to die” While raising the cup to my lips. He is not being helpful when he tastes it first and declares “It’s all the things we said- but if you put pepper on it.”

It’s obviously that. He’s not wrong.

One day a farmer noticed he had not burned or tended to his ditch in 100 years so he skimmed the top and drank it and lived 100 years off of the life force of those dirty wet weeds.

Final Thoughts:  Negative 100/5

We looked it up and a bunch of alcohol connoisseurs were talking about how great it is. They said it was a lot like white wine. Yes, inherently it does taste like white wine. But if you were mowing your lawn all day into your hot white wine that you spilled into your ditch and then frantically scooped back up again. That is what it tastes like.

Final Final Thoughts

If you had to drink this every day to live to be 100 you would not want to live to be 100.

Box Soju

20% maybe?  – $1.04 – rice based

We found soju in a little kids, er, a convenient box. So you can go hiking and not break the glass bottle on the hiking trail. Seems good. But boxed drink is usually, well, for kids. It even has a straw hole, my goodness.


It is Chamyiseul brand aka Red Frog. Chris and I, if we ever want soju, usually go buy Blue Frog. There is a difference but we don’t really know/care what it is. We like Blue Frog. This box is Red and that’s just not our thing.


Packaging – is it clear what it is?

It’s pretty clear that it’s soju because I know the red frog. If someone put this back with the juices I absolutely believe someone would accidentally buy this for their kid.


Box. We can’t smell it because we won’t put it in a glass, we’re obviously going to stab a straw in the top and do it right.


Yup. It’s soju.


Final Thoughts: 2/5 because soju is always 2/5

We really didn’t need to buy it but it did come in a box.

Raspberry Wine -Bokbunjajoo

15-19% – $6.05 – raspberry and rice

We saved the most expensive and most unknown one for last.


Packaging – is it clear what it is?

Yes. The label has pictures of raspberries.


We forgot. This was the last alcohol to try and we were getting lazy with our taste tests. Not drunk. If you think we got drunk off of the sips of cheese, weeds, and rice residue  you haven’t been paying attention.


Really sour-like berries and earthy – like the stems might have been left on. And if you remember what we said about Korean cuisine then this is possible.

It’s really strangely like tequila, after you get past the raspberry blitzkrieg.

Final Thoughts 3/5

An actually decent drink. It would go well with sprite. Would we buy it again? No. Will we  dump it down the drain like some of the others. No. We’ll finish this one.


Chris likes the maekolli the most but the texture of it is so bad it’s almost not worth it.

Kaeti likes the raspberry one “Bokbunjajoo” only because it’s like Nana’s jam.

What have we learned

You always think alcohol is made out of some key things: rice, potatoes, corn, hops/wheat, grapes. But there is really no limit to whatever you want to ferment. Korea has proven this.

Also we have to be thankful that we were able to taste all of these without really breaking the bank. Alcohol is very cheap here. It’s amazing to buy traditional alcohol for so cheap.

Finally if something is labeled as medicinal or is “possibly safe” for human consumption you can safely assume it’s not going to taste good. This is common knowledge but sometimes you need a reminder.


And Now for Something Completely Different…

It’s no real surprise that we don’t blog anymore. It comes down to a few things.

  1. We’ve been here for over two years. Nothing new is going on.
  2. We’re preventing new things from going on. Taking an hour taxi to get on a three hour train to get to some “special” town that’s not all that different than all the other “special” things is not appealing to us. Traveling around Korea isn’t rewarding to us. It’s more comfortable to do things closer to home.
  3. We’re vaguely unhappy. We don’t think we should blog about some of the things we are annoyed by.
  4.  We feel that, and can confirm, that some of the things we say on this blog are judged by either family or strangers. Knowing this makes us feel that we have to give a long backstory to everything we do. Why don’t you like when people stare at your crotch  {this happens a lot}Well you see the thing about that is that it makes me feel uncomfortable. Why don’t you like it when old Korean ladies shove you? What you have to understand about culture is…

If you think us being annoyed or unhappy with petty things isn’t good/open minded/whatever then come walk 3 years in our shoes and see how you like it.

Finally, some people just don’t like stuff. Some people don’t like celery, do you need them to explain why? We don’t like Korean xenophobia, do we need to explain why? If we did we would probably be labeled as racists or xenophobic ourselves. So we’ll just say: some things that Koreans do are annoying. Some things Americans do are annoying. EVERYONE is annoying.

Every blog starts with us talking about something. That thing is usually 40% annoying. But we hone in on that annoying thing because of our nature. Then we have to explain a backstory as to why it is annoying. And nothing is more lengthy than having to justify an opinion. Then after the blog post is written we proofread it and figure it’s too negative or too long.  So we delete it and never post it.  We’ve done this almost hundreds of times. No exaggeration, we had around 75 draft posts that were fully written then not posted for whatever reason. And now they’re super outdated so they can’t and won’t ever be posted.

We have about 230 days until our contract ends and we’re on the fence. We don’t like many things and can’t wait to get away. But at the same time we’re comfortable being here. All our stuff is here. Our adult lives properly started here with figuring out real estate, banking, loans, taxes and all that jazz but in a foreign language and country. 

So we’re wishy washy. Excited to get the heck out but terrified and saddened. We’ll miss many things.

Like we said, we don’t travel around in Korea because it’s infuriating, it’s all pretty much the same, and it’s expensive not going to justify it. We just don’t like it right now.  But we still like to do new and interesting things. So we’ve combined some of our favorite things – trying new things, not taking hour long journeys to nowhere, blogging for our own memories, blogging because you guys enjoy it, and just spending time together… We want to do new things while we still can. So we’re going to buy all kinds of crazy Korean things you can only find in Korea and try them out.

We’ll try our best to explain what it is, how it tastes, how expensive it is. If there is a necessary back story it will be told. It’s not a story of our daily lives but it’s introducing more about the cool stuff that’s around us. Stuff you guys have probably never thought could exist- corn ice cream, hawthorn and rice alcohol, strawberry shrimp chips, black-face face wash, bamboo salt toothpaste, rice donuts, and more.

These things make up the cool part of Korea that we have started to take for granted. Soon we won’t be able to experience these things in just under 300 days. Trying things out and blogging about it gives us a chance to explore more, create some new memories, and make  make some blogs again.

Thoughts and Criteria:

  1. We’re obviously not sitting down and eating thirty 400+ calorie ramens in one sitting. Some of the posts will take more time because we’re doing them over time
  2. We aren’t going to like everything. If it’s negative it’s probably because that food/thing was awful.
  3. For moral reasons  we won’t be trying live baby octopus (again) or dog meat (never have never will). That’s just not how we roll.
  4. Yes it’s a bit of a taste test thing. If you don’t find it interesting just skim it or ignore it. We will try to write them in an interesting manner.

So starting this week we’ll post our very first try-some-thing-and-blog-about-it  which we have titled “You’ll Never Know Until We Try” YNKUWT. We tried some traditional Korean alcohols and let me tell you I can still taste the hawthorn. Which until recently I didn’t even know was something edible.