|▲ CEO Park Whan-hee|
Like many other people on earth, Koreans love of drinks alongside dancing and singing goes as far back as the Samhan era around the 7th century. In times of Joseon dynasty, about 400 kinds of handmade liquors were recorded on the books of the time; but the number goes well over a thousand kinds when included the non-recorded. Regretfully, the Japanese during the colonial era in early 1900 introduced a liquor tax which resulted in near-sweeping out of all homemade Korean liquors. It is only a recent move that some entrepreneurs started to see the value of traditional Korean drinks as well as their commercial feasibility. <Power Korea> met Park Whan-hee, CEO of Hahyangju.
Traditional methods in modernized process
Rice and yeast are the two core ingredients to make Korean traditional liquor. Park sees that using Japanese yeast and culture yeast should not be categorized into ‘traditional Korean liquor’ since the saccharification and rippening of rice must happen simultaneously to be traditionally Korean. It is very important, therefore, to make ultimate yeast by the Korean way in the right temperature and proliferating conditions. Hahyangju is made of glutinous rice, traditional yeast, honeysuckle, medicinal wormwood and wild chrysanthemum. It is also called as Baekilju as it must go through 100 days of ripening in earthenware and then through filtering and sterilization in modernized facilities.
“There always was yeast and yeast making in and around my house when I grew up. It might sound natural for me to be a traditional Korean liquor maker as you see now since the practice was just so familiar to me. My family once moved to the US and lived there for a while but moved back to Korea in 1994 on the event of knowing the excellence of Hahyangju when I visited Korea the previous year shortly. I then worked at the National Tax Service Research Institute as a microorganism researcher. I launched researches on traditional Korean liquor making and built data base which was of great help” says Park.
The liquor that knows not ‘hangover’
“The better the yeast, the tastier of the liquor you get” emphasizes Park. “And to make the better yeast, you basically need three skills at hand: temperature, ripening time and crude liquor. Crude liquor especially is crucial as it moves onto the ‘enhanced crude liquor’ and then to compression and filtering. I gained this knowledge through years of my research on ancient books and popular traditions.”
Thanks to these years of passion and expertise of Park, Hahyangju succeeded to have rich flavor and mouth-happy taste. Also, ‘acetaldehyde’ is evaporated during the ripening process which is the reason Hahyangju does not give you a hangover the next morning; acetaldehyde is the very substance to cause hangover and alcoholic dementia.
“It takes more than 20 years for whisky to remove acetaldehyde and 100 years to completely remove it. That’s why the longer the ripening, the more expensive the whisky. So you see how excellent Hahyangju is.”
I actually tried Hahyangju during the interview and I felt my body comes back to normal after about 1 and a half hours from the effect, not to mention the impressive deep flavor and clean taste. There is an old saying “You get drunk three times a day if it is a master-made”. The saying perfectly serves Hahyangju. You can buy Hayangju at department stores nationwide.
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