As This is the First Jeju #1
My three-day trip to Jeju on April 2017 marks my first experience with this beautiful island since my school trip. I had vaguely thought that I wanted to go on a trip since my mandatory military service and just left for Jeju. Now I think about it, it was unmemorable to say the least. Back then, I thought, "wow! Jeju, what a great idea" and book the ticket but when I finally got there, I didn't have much I wanted to do and "talking with strangers at the guesthouse" was all I had on my to-do list. When I left my guesthouse in the morning, I didn't know what to do with myself. I depended on my Google search skills to find places but with overflowing amount information online, I didn't know what was good information and what was not. Anyways, it was unmemorable. Well, Hyeopjae Beach was beautiful, if that. I went to the same landmarks everybody went and says, "great, I guess." Ironically, since then I moved to Jeju.
One day, I got a call from my high school friends that they would be coming to Jeju. I asked what would they want to see, Yongmeori Coast or some beautiful beaches, they replied. And when I heard that, I was reminded of the post-military Jeju trip I went to. I was perplexed. I know these guys, but if they go to some popular beaches and crowded landmarks the rest of the world goes? It was obvious they will be disappointed. I know these guys way back from high school and I wanted them to have a good time in Jeju. And I started thinking about what they would like. Drinking! I remembered that's what got us together and I thought I'll design a 3-day trip that's is dedicated to drinking. Most people would only know of Hallasan Soju, Hallasan Olle Soju, and Peanut Makgeoli from Udo. There are countless local drinks, and they all have distinct flavor and aroma. From Soju, Makgeoli, Beer and other traditional drinks, the journey through Jeju liquor was about to begin.
The culture of alcoholic beverages is special. Jeju was founded on the island of volcanic stones and the baseflow or the low-water flow has made the rice farming extremely difficult in Jeju. Rice was the main ingredient for most of traditional liquors of Korea but due to these agricultural difficulties, grains like foxtail millets, which we now know better as Xiaomi and barley that was easily cultivated had been used to distill and fortify some of local liquors. Most of the drinks we tried around the island were fermented liquors distilled from these two grains. It would have been nice to try all the drinks possible but due to this 3-day limitation, we decided to cut Jeju in half in relations to Hallasan, and went to the east side. We have chosen Soondari, Omegi Liquor, Gosori Liquor and Malgeun Badang.
When we first heard what Soondari was, it was difficult to imagine what kind of drink this would be. It's a Makgeoli but it's also a yogurt? Visit the Seopseom Halmang Cafe (which translates to Grandmother of Seop Island in Jeju dialect) in Bomok in Seogwipo and your suspicion and concern will be at its highest. They have that here? The unassuming and humble state of the place might surprise you but continue inside. They sell much more than Soondari here like Bomal Noodles (Bomal is Jeju dialect for conch) and you can choose to eat in or outside. But we strongly recommend eating outside. Seeing the Seopseom afloat the beautiful ocean and the waves would make you feel like you have just died and gone to heaven. This lightweight drink, Soondari would never make you worry about hangovers. Drinking by the Han River? Don't even come close to this.
Soondari almost feels closer to yogurt. It's really hard to call this an alcoholic beverage as its ABV is about 1-2%. This really feels like a regular drink. Our team commonly reviewed that it feels like Sikhye, a Korean rice beverage mixed with Makgeoli. And other described it, as yogurt meets Makgeoli. Soondari is a genius invention of Jeju locals. On a hot summer day, with spoiled cooked barley, they put some yeast and turned it into a fermented drink. It's low in ABV, with very minimal bitterness from alcohol; this is a fun drink for casual drinkers.
Omegi-ddeok, the rice cake rolled in red beans, is popular, but Omegi Liquor? That sounds rather exotic. To be completely honest, it hasn't been too long since we learned about this drink. A friend of mine had spoken so highly of this drink with a rave review on his podcast. I was keen to try this drink and brainstormed for a review and finally, here was my opportunity! You may be disappointed if you are expected the sweet and chewy Omegi-ddeok. It is liquor after all. But as the luscious and distinct aroma with subtle sweetness that passes the back of your tongue, you will want to drink it again the next day. We only bought one bottle of Omegi Liquor as we were in the midst of tasting sessions, but with enough team members to share with, it was soon empty after our shoot.
Omegi Liquor is a type of fermented drink from foxtail millet, or what we know better as Xiaomi. With sticky Xiaomi, it is first pounded into dough and yeast is added. Just add water and with a little bit of time, it'll begin to to turn opaque orange. Voila, there you have it, Omegi Liquor. You can choose to drink it clear with sediments disgorged or as is by shaking to mix. Omegi Liquor is known for its extravagant aroma and gentle sweetness. It makes you want to gulp the whole thing down! For those who enjoy sweet drinks like fruit Soju, Daily Jeju highly recommends Omegi Liquor.
I am reminded of the Crazy Badass Honey Badger who doesn't give a thing (Gosori rhymes with Beolggool Osori, Korean for a honey badger). We had Gosari Liquor with the yellletail sashimi which was an absolute match made in heaven. The oily last note of the sashimi can be refreshed with a shot of this. The nutty and oily flavor leaves without saying goodbye. Once you get a sense of this aroma topped in your shot, you have no choice but to take it to your lips. If you are looking for the right drink to enjoy with your sashimi, I recommend Gosori Liquor.
The Gosori Liquor is considered to be the top 3 best liquors along with Andong Soju, Gaesung Soju. Gosori Liquor is what you get from fortifying Omegi Liquor. Gosori is what they call the fortifying device in Jeju dialect. Unlike Omegi Liquor, Gosori Liquor is clear and it is known for its aroma nutty flavor. Its ABV at 40% is as high a glass of whisky but the aroma and the clean final note makes Gosori Liquor distinguishes itself from the rest of similar liquors. It is also said Gosori Liquor is loved by celebrities.
Malgeun Badang is made with Jeju rice. This rice sake can be turned into two versions: 1. Malgeun Badang, the clear and refined liquor with the sediments disgorged, much like the ordinary rice sake we know, and 2. Han Badang, liquor with the sediments as is, much lie Makgeoli. Malgeun Badang has its ABV AT 13% which is about the same as Soju but without its bitterness. It reminds of the drinks with Asian plums. And with medium body, this would be great for former occasions or with someone important. With detailed packaging, this really brings out the experience.
You can easily buy Omegi Liquor or Gosori Liquor at supermarkets. But those have short fermentation period and often times have additives to induce artificial fermentation processes. Where we went on our excavation was all made through the traditional methods by famous Myeonggas (equivalent to Chateaux in Korean). Especially for Omegi Liquor and Gosori Liquors are now fermented by those who are chosen by the nation as the intangible cultural properties.
We all reeked of booze at the end of this trip, but who cares! We got to travel around the island with a clear objective and concept. It was a true pilgrimage to Jeju liquors. There are other places you can visit like Seopseom, Saryeoni Forest, Seongeup Folk Village or Seongsan which can make this pilgrimage much more pleasurable. Getting hungry? Visit Olle Market on its way! This pilgrimage to Jeju liquors receives a solid 6 out of 5!