The face of the local Korean alcohol industry changes once again with the arrival of the first gin using Korean grown botanicals.
The alcohol industry in Korea has undergone many changes in the last few years, and it's so encouraging to see the development. In the Korean traditional alcohol industry, several new breweries have opened up in the last few years, adding more creativity and diversity to the world of makgeolli, cheongju and soju. Also as the craft beer scene has rapidly expanded, so too are we now seeing a rise in the hard cider industry (which we are very much looking forward to exploring this summer!).
Despite soju being the highest-selling spirit domestically, other liquor categories such as whiskey, gin or vodka have yet to get their start in terms of local production. Distillation as a craft discipline is still quite unknown, with the allure of brewing commercial craft beer being far more compelling to the would-be brewmaster. With some notable exceptions in a handful of apple brandy distillers, the international liquor categories are still largely untouched.
Gin is without a doubt having a moment globally, as it has taken root in many local alcohol industries around the world. It has been interesting to watch its meteoric rise from cheap headache maker to quality artisan craft (sound familiar? I'm looking at you soju~~). But what has been the most fascinating part about this gin movement, is the way producers are incorporating local flavours and domestic aromatics. Australian gin producer Four Pillars for example, has broken the mold with their 'Bloody Shiraz' wine macerated gin. The sky is the limit for creativity when it comes to this particular category of spirit, as it is not bound by as many rigid category specifications.
So it was only a matter of time before we could see the first Korean gin enter the scene, and we are now excited to be able to expand our liquor cabinet to include 'Buja Gin'. At the first sound of the name, you would be forgiven for thinking the branding means 'Rich'. However this gin is the work of a father and son team, and so they take the Korean terminology that means relationship between 'Father & Son'. And so in a rather intentional double meaning, not only is the product of excellent quality and 'Rich', but also an expression of the skills of 'Father & Son'.
The father element of the team is responsible for the aromatics, as he is a farmer of a wide range of botanicals. Buja Gin uses 100% locally sourced botanicals, many of which come directly from their farm. And so it goes that the son, Tom Cho, is the driving force behind Buja Gin's delicate, fresh and gently balanced flavour profile.
We often talk about what kind of botanicals would make a great Korean gin, usually when we are sitting around distilling a batch of soju in the lab. Korean traditional alcohol recipes are filled with wonderful aromatics and teas that we love to ferment with, and some of our favourite traditional sojus are infused with elements such as cinnamon, chrysanthemum and omija. We've always thought that there is an open door for a beautiful crossover from ancient traditions and modern techniques.
But if there's one thing we have learned from our days testing recipes, it's a balancing act when combining more than one or two infusions. So we were surprised to learn that Buja Gin has a profile of 15 different botanicals for their first product. Some of the highlights of these aromatics are pine, chamomile, coriander seeds and a lovely boost of citrus from Jeju Hallabong. The result is a surprisingly sweet but floral and gently spicy gin that goes down far too smoothly. You'll want to be careful with this one, blink and half the bottle will be gone before you know it!
So I'm sure the next question will be, as it always is with small-batch alcohol in Korea, where do you get it? It's only been a few weeks since the first launch, so it's not widely stocked in the usual places you would expect to pick up gin. For now, the best bet is to order directly from the distillery and have a bottle delivered to you. They come in two different sizes, 375ml for 44,000won and 525ml for 56,000won. Check out their website here if you would like to get in touch, and fear no language barrier as Tom is a fluent English speaker as well.