It’s no secret that I am a big fan of cheongju (청주). That golden clear layer of booze that rises to the top after filtering is one of my favourite things to drink. Not all recipes yield the best ratio of cheongju to takju, so when you get a good batch you definitely feel like a brew master!
Cheongju is a clear refined rice wine that is consumed as an alcoholic beverage but is also often used in Korean marinades, sauces, and with other seasonings. It has a rich flavor with hints of sweetness so it is usually enjoyed cold in the spring and summer months but warm in the fall and winter months.
Cheongju is usually brewed in the winter months sometime between November and March. Steamed rice and nuruk, the fermentation starter, and water, are left to ferment for 16 to 25 days. The product from the fermentation is then filtered and the clear liquid, or cheongju, is ladled out.
One of the reasons I always like to keep hefty stores of cheongju in the fridge is because sadly, the good quality stuff can be quite expensive. Due to the longer fermentation period, aging, and the fact that very little water (if any) is added to the final product, it’s understandable that a bottle can run between W20,000 and W50,000 a bottle in the bar.
The skill of the artisans that make these brews is undeniable, but it can be difficult to throw down a hunk of cash when you might just be hanging out with one or two friends. The good news is that this industry is always changing….sometimes at break neck speeds!
One of the developments that seems to be popping up, is that breweries are starting to bottle their cheongju in 375ml bottles as opposed to the usual 500ml. This means that if I just want to have a tasting, or if a whole bottle of 17% booze is too much for the two of us, it’s rare but it happens, then we have a more affordable size and volume to work with.
One such brewery that has started these smaller cheongju bottle options is Cheongmyeong-ju. A straight rice and nuruk brew that does not add any finishing water (hence the respectable 17%), this cheongju has a lot of versatility. It is sweet and has a spicy alcohol burn, but is characterized by a pleasant earthy cheesiness.
One of the ways I like to enjoy cheongju, which tends to have a heavy body and stronger ABV, is to serve it in a wine glass and throw in a few ice cubes. It can soften up some of the stronger flavours, and of course keeping it ice cold adds a refreshing element that makes you want to keep sipping!