Producing any specialty type of food or alcohol generally requires specific equipment and ingredients to be successful. Sometimes sourcing these weird and wonderful items can be a little bit tricky, however, I do have my own favourite spot for procuring exotic Korean materials.
Whether you are fermenting wine, beer, kombucha or Sool there is a long list of base ingredients that are necessary to make it the special thing we want to quaff. For beer, we need grains, hops and yeast. Wine demands grapes or other sweet fruit. Kombucha is born of sweet tea and the Sci-Fi SCOBY creature of your darkest nightmares. Korean Sool needs rice and nuruk.
Most of these primary ingredients are fairly easy to find, (Nuruk is widely available everywhere in Korea and to a limited extent overseas – more on that in a future article) and are more often than not quite affordable. However, particularly in Korean brewing, there is a litany of weird and wonderful berries, roots, flowers and other items from the tradition of 한약 (Hanyak – Korean Traditional Medicine) which are not only alien to our palate but also perplexing to the new brewer as to where one might find them.
When I teach students Korean style brewing or talk with fellow home brewers about these kinds of items, I always recommend the same place which I have found to be an exciting treasure trove of plants and herbs. I didn’t even know it existed until I saw them there.
A little east of Dongdaemun on the subway Line 1, one can find Jegi-Dong Station, which upon leaving exit 2, directly reveals the quietly famous and ominous sounding Seoul Drug Market (서울약령시). A sprawl of a few blocks where one can find the solution to all of your (legal) desires.
These are not drugs in the Western tradition, however, one will quickly find that most of these stores and stalls are selling powdered roots and flowers, dried berries and ground leaves, as well as teas and extracts from plants that have a history of medicinal use dating back to antiquity.
I can easily get lost looking at the varying berries, roots and unknown remedies that are stacked up in bags and boxes, and almost every visit, I will end up leaving with something other than what I was looking for, leading to a lot of experimental brews.
I haven’t yet plucked up the courage to purchase and try out the cheeky little nuruk bricks that I found tucked away here and there next to nothing else that is brewing related… maybe one for you to try at home?
On my last visit I was looking for flowers in order brew 백화주 (One Hundred Flowers Sool), which we were working on in our most recent brewing project, and accidentally purchased 10kgs of 매실 (Meshil – Chinese plum/Japanese apricot). This is currently in the process of being fermented into a traditional syrup, before soaking it in soju to infuse the spirit with its sweet and tart flavour. Yum!
If you are interested in that recipe, we picked it up online from Maangchi’s fantastic Korean cooking website here.
Another reason that I always recommend this market to my friends and students is not only because of the funky ingredients that are available, but also for the little stall right in front of exit 2 of the subway, which exclusively sells Sool brewing paraphernalia. Filter bags, sieves, cooling racks and hemp cloths are all available for a very reasonable price.
I also recommend wandering far and deep into the neighbouring gyeongdong market which is directly East of the medicinal market where you will find anything you can possibly imagine, and more! Recently I encountered some cute little turtles… sadly destined for hot stock pot rather than the aquarium… (sad face).
Enough of my sales pitch. If you are living in Seoul or visiting for a while, get out there and discover your new favourite brewing infusion!
Have another place where you like to pick up brewing items and supplies? Is there a brewing question or subject you would like to be covered here? Pitch it in the comments section below and I will ferment you a response in good time 🙂
Dan is a Korean traditional alcohol specialist with a focus on brewing science. He currently manages and instructs the advanced level classes of the Susubori Academy where he completed his study in Brewing Biochemistry. He also studied under Grand Master Park Rok Dam.