Korea has a long tradition of culinary arts and unique cuisine, with some popular names such as kimchi, a traditional side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, napa cabbage and radish, as well as favorite locally made and brewed liquors known as Soju, Makjeolli (Takju), Yakju and fruit wine. Generally speaking, all alcoholic beverages are called Sool in the Korean language.

Thanks to the invitation by Korean Culture and Information Service, I had a visit to The Sool Gallery in Seoul last Friday afternoon, 01 April 2022. The Sool Gallery is a community established by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation to introduce the taste and the charm of Korean traditional liquor and its cultural value.

While visiting the gallery, which is located at the Korean Food Master’s Center, visitors enjoy the view of culinary arts and periodically meet food Grand Masters as well. A food Grand Master designation program is an honorable purpose for the traditional food and alcoholic beverages realm. It is given to the person who has been working in the field of applicable food manufacturing, processing, cooking for more than 20 years continuously, a person who preserves the methods of traditional food in the original ways and is able to implement them as they are, a person who completed the inherited education from a Food Master for more than 5 years and then, has been working in the field for more than 10 years.   As of January 2020, there are 79 Food Grand Masters and among them, 25 masters are classified as traditional alcoholic beverages.

The Sool Gallery is a place for promoting Korean’s cultural value of traditional liquors and is a public space to enjoy its tastes, and styles and to view this richness, says Mr. Minhyun Kim, a team leader for a guided tour in the gallery. Usually, visitors would learn much through the information provided by the guide staff– that The Sool Gallery is a bridge connecting brewers and consumers, as liquor is one of Korea’s representative fermented foods.

So what is the value of Sool anyway? It’s said that in Korean culture, Sool means more than just alcohol; it helps connect person to person and bring communities together. It plays a very important role in ancestral rites and hospitality, which are key elements in Confucian culture. It was considered part of Korean cuisine. Each household brewed Sool with various recipes and shared them with others.

The Sool is categorized into three groups. Soju, which literally means burning alcohol, is a distilled spirit, a pure essence of traditional alcohol. Makgeolli (Takju) is a fermented beverage, fermented for a short time, to preserve the ingredient’s natural flavors as fresh as possible. Yakju refers to refined clear rice wine without sediments. Some of the drinks are regarded as being precious as medicine and thus were called Yakju, and some types of Yakju contain rare medicinal herbs

Certainly, when you come to visit Korea, you would enjoy its cuisine with locally brewed alcoholic beverages which say “always welcome”. I live in Seoul’s old quarter in a compound that has a nice space for earthen jars where the house owners make and keep fermented delicacy foods. It is a beautiful culture in that every traditional household has large, medium or small earthenware pots filled with pickled vegetables, widely known as kimchi, soybean pastes, and chili pastes. To me, just the daily view of the jars in our compound gives me lots of contentment.

Photo credits: Bereket Alemayehu and