Saturday, April 6, 2013

Soju and the Provinces

The Korean peninsula is a land of many features - from the many mountains which are the highest along the eastern side of the long peninsula to the relatively warm and temperate climate in the middle latitude. The radically changing topography vary quite extensively between the northernmost and southernmost regions. (South Koreans enjoy a much warmer latitude and therefore a longer growing season while North Korea borders the cold steppes and is hit harder by the Mongolian winds of winter). Throughout the Koreas, and even so in the more temperate South Korea, there is a wide and varying difference in agricultural products being produced, farming techniques employed in production and traditional home construction to complement the variation between colder and warmer climates on the peninsula. And so, as can be expected, though the drinking of soju is widespread through South Korea, the ingredients and brewing vary quite a bit.

This is an introduction to soju as compiled by two of my students - Kim Jin Kyu and Kang Hong Soon. They looked at 6 different kinds of soju (in fact, there are many more!) and talked about the topography involved in the creation and resulting regional variation of each.

Chamiseul - Capital area

♦ most famous soju in South Korea

♦ has a cheaper price than most other soju - so that it could have very high sales, in fact, in 2010 1,600,000 were sold
♦ uses bamboo charcoal to filter the impurities and make the soju "softer"

Autumn Chrysanthemum - Kangwon

♦ unique chrysanthemum flavor made by using whole blooms

♦ made also of sweet rice, which gives it a soft, sweet, smooth effect when drinking

Pyongyang Soju - Pyongyang

♦ most famous soju in North Korea

♦ a distilled soju, making it very unusual and considered "good for health"

♦ has a very high degree of alcohol, reflecting the cold environment in which it is made (for keeping the people "warm")

♦ nice attractive chrysanthemum scent - sweetish and aromatic

Big Soju - Cheongju

♦ made from the famous local Cheongju apples, and therefore considered nutritious

♦ contains natural oligodang and honey for heightened sweetness to the soju

♦ contains 13% alcohol

♦ made with Pyongyang honey for added sweetness

Hanla Soju - Jeju

♦ made by using basalt in the purification process - basalt is the core ingredient and as it is porous, it is used to filter the water and simultaneously infuse the water with minerals, which in turn make the person wake early after drinking

♦ popular among young people

♦ contains a relatively low degree of alcohol - 11%

♦ said to contain vitamin A & C, respectively beneficial for the eyes and for smooth skin

Maesil mael - Hadong

♦ made from the Japanese apricot

♦ produced in a high altitude area - Hadong is located at 400meters above sea level

♦ grown in a lower temperature zone, which is higher alkalinity from the apricots (most sojus are very acidic) and so is appropriate for cultivating apricots

♦ 13% alcohol content

♦ contains minerals (as already said)

My further comments:

The soju-drinking culture is strong here, and while formerly in the early 1990s women were looked down on for drinking soju, especially publicly, women are sure enjoying it now. And, women are being used as sex symbols to market the soju - they hold the soju, shake the soju, smile with beautiful teeth and wearing skimpy clothes in the TV ads, wall posters, even in subway ads ... The drinking culture here is a marked difference between the US and Korea. In the US we just don't plop soju or hard alcohol on tables for evening meals. And advertising hard alcohol is controlled by laws - IF we advertise alcohol on TV, and I think advertising is limited to beer as I have never see hard liquor being advertised on public television, the people in the advertisements can hold the beer, heft it, salute with it, but absolutely canNOT drink it or pretend to drink it on national TV. But here in Korea, the women intermixed with the men, are toasting and one-shotting the hard alcohol down.   Since Koreans often talk about the location of the soju in reference to regionalism, costs and taste are descriptors suggesting age,  regionalism, sometimes economic concerns (the price of the better quality sojus are a lot more expensive than the Seoul brand for example), and of course cultivated taste. Since seeing this presentation by my students, I've started noticing that outside some drinking halls the location or type of soju is advertised to the passing public. Just a few days ago, I even saw the above picture outside a neighborhood hof clearly labeling some kinds of sojus and indicating where they originated from.
My apologies ... I think the descriptions of the various sojus MIGHT be out-of-order. I had them nicely saved and when I reopened the file, the descriptions were located beneath the regional picture and the names and pictured sojus were above. If the desciptions are out-of-order, I take full responsibility. My students gave a well-organized presentation.

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