5 to Try: Kyungmoon Kim’s Favorite Korean Sool - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

5 to Try: Kyungmoon Kim’s Favorite Korean Sool

A master sommelier, Kyungmoon Kim established the wine program for modern Korean restaurant Jungsik when it opened in New York City in 2011. But he often wished he had more access to the premium spirits of his native Korea. In 2019, he took it upon himself to introduce American drinkers to high-quality Korean sool, founding KMS Imports. “Sool is the general term for alcoholic beverages in Korea. It can include beer, wine, rice brew, distilled spirits—everything,” says Kim, noting that most Korean alcoholic beverages are still rice based, within a variety of categories. “You can’t talk about sool without covering all different categories—takju, chungju, and soju. Takju is a cloudy rice brew, and once it’s filtered clear it becomes chungju, literally meaning ‘clear alcohol.’ Soju is a spirit distilled from chungju.” Here, Kim offers five of his favorites spanning the sool spectrum.

Hana Makgeolli Takju 16 Founded in Brooklyn, Hana Makgeolli is produced using artisanal methods that celebrate the heritage of its founder. “Alice Jun is crafting her makgeolli in takju style, which is a term often used interchangeably, but takju has a richer texture and more complex flavor due to less dilution with water after brewing,” says Kim. “She brews with the most traditional method of using just rice and nuruk, a natural starter that gives a unique thumbprint of sool. Makgeolli is traditionally a farmer’s fizz that is a sessionable, casual drink. But her Takju 16 is incredibly nuanced, with silky texture and a bright acidic balance. It’s almost like savoring a glass of fine wine.” $24/750 ml., hanamakgeolli.com

Yangchon Chungju Operating since 1920 in Nonsan, South Korea, the Yangchon Brewery is one of the country’s oldest commercial breweries. Making traditional makgeolli and chungju, Yangchon uses organic rice grown with the assistance of snails, which are released into the rice fields to eat the weeds. “This chungju has a golden-amber color with abundant savory notes such as fermented soy, cheese rinds, and mushroom. It has a touch of natural sweetness that gives round texture,” Kim says. “With a lot of savory flavors, this makes a great gastronomic beverage.” $29.99/500 ml., shop.woorisoul.com

Solsongju Damsoul Made in Hamyang with a family recipe handed down for more than 500 years, Solsongju Damsoul is first made as a chungju, brewed with pine and spruce needles added to the rice and nuruk. It’s then distilled and proofed down with spruce tea. “What I love about this soju is that the spirit reminds me of gin. It has subtle juniper-like notes, with cool and refreshing menthol and eucalyptus notes as well,” says Kim. “This can be a fun play on different gin cocktails. I love it with tonic or even as a Negroni.” $25.99/375 ml., shop.woorisoul.com

Samhae Soju “The story of Samhae Soju can be traced back to the Goryeo dynasty [918-1392],” explains Kim. “The heritage of Samhae arises from its rigid brewing method. This soju must take three stages of brewing, which elongates the process to 108 days. Each stage takes place on the day of the pig of each month. It was believed that the blood of the pig is the purest and cleanest, therefore ancestors brewed on a pig day in order to produce pure and clean sool.” Kim says it’s likely the extended fermentation period that develops the depth and complexity in this soju. “I would recommend this to be enjoyed in similar fashion as single malt whiskies or high-end mezcal.” $70/375 ml., romawinesnyc.com

Won Mae Plum Liqueur “Typically, maesil are thought of as tart and bitter green plums. However, when ripened, it turns golden in color [and] intensifies the floral and tropical fruit aromatics, building natural sweetness while retaining bright acidity.” The ripe, delicate plums aren’t widely available, but the Han company sources maesil from their family orchard, and produces a plum liqueur that captures the vibrancy of the fruit at its best. “Won Mae is exceptionally aromatic, but not cloyingly sweet, and a natural acidity gives a refreshing finish,” says Kim. “It can be enjoyed chilled or mixed into a cocktail.” $15.99/375 ml., misterwrightfinewines.com

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