Our journey to a new brewery & education space, expansion to The Netherlands, and a continued mission to bring quality sool to the international community!
If you follow any of our social media accounts, you might have noticed some pretty big changes at The Sool Company in the last 2 years. A lot has happened since Covid stormed in and changed our lives, both personally and professionally. In January 2020, I was running the business solo and had a promising spring calendar filled with makgeolli tours, events and classes. And just like that - I quickly saw the entire business model disappear. For most of the first year of Covid, just like so many other business owners in the same boat, I thought it would be almost impossible to recover.
But even a global pandemic can't crush the sool dream for good. I did what everyone was doing at the time, which was learning how to use the digital space to survive. Having online makgeolli services was always part of the goal, but with the inevitable hectic schedule of Seoul life always getting in the way, I just never had the time. So Covid became a motivator to convert all our brewing education services to an online model. Soon after launching the online Intro to Brewing Makgeolli Course, the requests for commercial brewery consultancy were coming in hard and fast.
For a few years now, we have taken on private clients to study intensively, learning all the fermentation techniques and strategies to open a commercial makgeolli brewery outside of Korea. One such client and friend, Alice Jun of Hana Makgeolli, has gone on to blaze the trail of bringing craft makgeolli to the US market, and we couldn't be more excited to see her go from success to success.
But it was during Covid that I realized I could help so many others start their dream projects from afar, by designing tailored brewing consultancies that can be done completely online. In all honesty, it was this pivot that saved The Sool Company. Being able to not only weather the storm, but actually grow our services, rekindled the flame of passion that had dwindled to a flicker in 2020. It was a reminder that after so many years, sool is finally coming into an age of its own, and it's more exciting than ever.
During Covid, Korean traditional alcohol itself was enjoying unprecedented success. The Korean government changed the law a few years back to allow alcohol in the traditional category to be sold online. That meant that even the smallest craft makgeolli brewery could reach its customers through door-to-door delivery. In a time of social distancing and nightlife restrictions, 'Honsool' & 'Homesool' (Drinking alone and Drinking at home) became buzzwords that still endure in a post-covid recovery. Bottle shops dedicated to sool have popped up all over, and the number and diversity of makgeolli breweries has exploded.
And so has tourism. This summer Korea saw extremely high numbers of tourists flocking to Seoul and beyond, fueled in no small part by the successes of Squid Game, Parasite, Minari and of course BTS. For The Sool Company, even though none of our tours or classes were listed as available, our inbox was flooded with requests and inquiries for any kind of makgeolli experience. We were getting more requests than even before Covid, and that was all the sign we needed to take the next leap.
It's always been a dream of mine personally, to open a space dedicated to Korean alcohol education. I have always wanted to expand our bridge to provide not just intro classes, but full courses with seasonal tastings and collaborations. There is so much the sool industry can learn from other international alcohols and perspectives, and vice-versa. The mission has been, always from day one, about community and shared experiences, right back from when we started as a makgeolli meetup group in 2011 (I remember those MMPK days so fondly - I'm looking at you, Mama Monica :) ).
And so when the opportunity arose to join forces with the indomitable Bona Kim and powerhouse of problem-solving Valentin Janiaut, there was no hesitation. As a testament to the aforementioned community, all three of us met in the makgeolli brewing course I ran in 2020 & 2021, and we have shared our sool obsessions with each other ever since. Looking back on it now (though it really wasn't that long ago), it was only fitting that I asked Bona to work together in Imachi, and we then asked Valentin to join at Yeokjeon-ju. Great partnerships are made in sool bars!
From the day we high-fived and said cheers in June, right up to today when I'm writing this in a cafe in Amsterdam (more on that later), time has passed in a blur. We found a location within 2 weeks, incorporated the company, designed the layout, gutted the place and started construction. Within 6 weeks we had the bones of the space complete, fitted out our brewing equipment, made endless trips to tax offices and gu-cheongs to get licenses, and gathered a lifetime's worth of stories of Carrot Market exchanges. All in all, we were ready to open doors and welcome guests within 3 months of saying 'I do'. Korea is nothing short of jaw-dropping when it comes to the speed of getting things done.
And so after many open houses, private classes and practice runs with our expanding staff, The Sool Company Korea has finally had a minute to breathe - as much as running a business ever lets you breathe. Our space in Hyewha is not just for classes and events, we are also a licensed micro-brewery producing our own lines of sool on a small batch basis. More importantly, we are also a licensed bottle shop! There is so much happening in the craft sool industry, and now we can curate the sool we want to introduce to our community. In short, The Sool Company finally has a home, and we can't wait to build it as a vibrant place for sool fun and education.
So what's all this about Amsterdam? Well once again, many friends and sool colleagues will know, that this move has been a long time coming. I have lived in Korea for 16 years, and have been working in the role of promoting sool to the international market for 10 of those years. Without getting too into the nitty-gritty of how it all came about, it's time I take my skills further afield. Now as sool is making strides to finally become the dynamic industry it has the potential to be, I want The Sool Company to be on the frontlines of the new frontier.
That new frontier for us is Europe. We have been hesitant to announce anything publically until we were sure it was possible, but last Friday we officially got the news. We have been accepted into the Startup Visa Facilitation Program by Erasmus Center for Entrepeneurship in Rotterdam! After a thorough evaluation of our business plan and interviews, they have deemed our project as 'innovative and promising' and will now advocate on our behalf to Dutch immigration. This has been a crucial step in validating what we ourselves know without a doubt, that we are ready to bring the world of craft sool to the Netherlands and beyond.
Followers of The Soul of Seoul will already have an inkling as to who that 'We' might also include. Hallie Bradley and I met during 2020, when us tourism business owners tried to band together to figure out a way to navigate our survival. We ended up joining forces and created one of our favourite tours to date, 'Makgeolli, Giants & The Great Outdoors' which combined Hallie's expert knowledge of unique travel destinations and my own skills in all things makgeolli. Even though Korea's restrictions kept kicking us down just when we got back up, we knew we could create great things together. And now that means makgeolli in Holland!
So that brings us to where we are now. I will be returning to Korea one last time this week to teach some classes and courses, and also prepare for a more permanent move to Rotterdam. The Sool Company Korea team is working around the clock to prepare events, classes, and just opportunities to hangout and share makgeolli together. If you have a question or want to get in touch and be a part of a fun-loving community of sool folk, drop get in touch via Instagram.
And although Europe is not as fast as Korea (yes that's an understatement!), The Sool Company Netherlands will be hosting pop-ups and collaborations any chance we get until our space is up and running. So if you're in the European neck of the woods, drop us a line to our Dutch Instagram here, we would love to hear from you!
As 2022 slowly winds to a close, The Sool Company Korea and The Sool Company Netherlands are well on their way to growing a mission dreamed up a decade ago (also in a bar), by two friends who just really liked makgeolli. It goes to show that no matter how far you might get set back in your goals, sometimes that's just what you need to come back stronger.