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Andong Soju(Cho Ok-hwa)

To Maintain the Taste of Clean Andong Soju Boasting 45% Alcohol

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From olden times, Andong in North Gyeongsang Province, along with Jeju Island and Kaesong in North Korea, has been famous for ‘Soju’ (distilled liquor). Andong Soju was enjoyed from the Silla period (one of the three kingdoms in Korea in early age [BC 57~AD 935]), but later this was not the case owing to the prohibition of alcohol. However, the severed reputation of Andong Soju was resurrected by Cho Ok-wha, the CEO of the Minsokju Andong Co.
In 1988, before the Seoul Olympics were held, the Korean government searched for folk liquors distinctive of the regions of Korea and one of civil servants in Andong asked Ms. Cho to make ‘Dongdong-ju’(cloudy rice wine), which used to be made in night markets in rural areas. Then Andong Soju suddenly came to Ms. Cho’s mind. In the days of her youth Ms. Cho used to make Andong Soju for her father who liked drinking alcoholic beverages. Ms. Cho reminisced: “When I recommended Andong Soju, which was presented to kings in the past as Andong’s folk liquor, the civil servant was surprised and asked whether I knew how to make Andong Soju. I answered that I saw my mom making it and that I’d said to myself ‘I would give it a shot!’”

After three years of her efforts, Ms. Cho was designated as one of the intangible cultural assets of North Gyeongsang Province in 1987 for her Andong Soju. And from 1990 she started producing the liquor in earnest after having a factory built near the Nakdong River.

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Ms. Cho makes Andong Soju using a traditional secret han- ded down only to Andong from Goryeo (the 2nd united kingdom in Korea [918~1392]). It is made only from nonglutinous rice and water by forming ‘Nuruk’ (a wheat-based source of the enzyme amylase). High-quality rice, clean water, and good Nuruk are the simple secret of the taste of the Andong Soju that contains no additives. As for the Nuruk which determines the taste of the liquor, it is not made by machine; it still has to be made by hand.

Andong Soju, a distilled liquor made using a timeworn method, has the high content of 45% alcohol with condensed microelement and a rich scent. So popular was this soju that stories are told of the sight of those who wanted to buy a bottle of the Andong Soju queuing in front of the brewery from dawn.

But why the high 45% alcohol content? Ms. Cho explained: “45% is the highest content of all domestic folk liquors. Of course, we can make our liquor with 30% or 40% alcohol. However, as for the Andong Soju, when it contains 45% of alcohol, the unique taste and clean taste can be maximized. So, I introduced my Andong Soju and named it ‘Folk Liquor Andongsoju 45.’”

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These days Ms. Cho is busy handing down the secret brewing of her Andong Soju to her daughter-in-law, Bae Kyung-hwa. To her credit, Ms. Bae unfolded academically the secret of Andong Soju through her master’s thesis entitled ‘Literature Review for the Transmission of Andong Soju’ and her doctoral dissertation on ‘Enological Characterization of the Traditional Liquor Andong Soju: Fermentation and Optimization of Andong Soju (Owned by Nuruk Production).’

Ms. Cho said: “My son is a curator of the Andong-Soju & Traditional Food Museum.
I always feel safe thinking that my son and his wife have been trying their best to maintain Andong Soju, and I know they will always try to do the same as now.”

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Ms. Cho is also keen on spreading the tastes of traditional and royal Korean food as well as to act as beacon for Andong Soju. In 1999, when Queen Elizabeth II visited Hahoe Village in Andong, Ms. Cho garnered much praise for presenting 47 dishes including fruit, noodle, ‘Pyeonyuk’ (sliced and pressed meat), ‘Jjim’ (simmered pot), and ‘Tang’ (soup). In particular, she presented ‘Japanese apricot tree Tteok-kkot’ (Tteok-kkot: rice cake flower made of rice cake and shaped like flower) which was presented on a special day at Court. This was a just reward for Ms. Cho who still has a passion for traditional Korean liquors and food even when she is in her 80s.

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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