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Cho Young-gui, Songwha Baekilju

Buddhist Temple Liquor with 1,300 Years History

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If you visit to Mt. Moak in Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do, you can meet Byeongam (Cho Young-gui) who is a Buddhist temple liquor (Songwha Baekilju and Songjuk Ogokju) master and Juji (the head priest of a temple) of Suwangsa (a temple), who back in 1994 won accolade as a Korean food master from the government.

The history of Songwha Baekilju has been written in a Buddhist story book Published in Silla Period. Two Buddhists and two good friends Younghee and Youngjo drank Songwha Baekilju when they decided to separate from each other. Both the Umsikdimibang (a recipe book written by Ms. Jang, 1678) and Nongjeonghoeyo (a farming technique book by Choi Han-gi, 1830) also mention the liquor. However, the recipe is based on Jinmukdaesa (Buddhist priest) who centuries ago in 1602 made and drank the liquor to prevent mountain sickness in Suwangsa.

Mr. Cho became a monk when he was 12-years old in 1968 learned how to make the drink. Since his inauguration he has stayed in Suwangsa as the 12th successor of Songwha Baekilju. To acquaint people with the liquor he established a company named Songwha Yangjo because he wanted to focus on carrying on the tradition of the liquor. In recognition of his efforts he become the first food master chosen by the government.

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One of the important ingredients of the two liquors, Songwha Baekilju and Songjuk Ogokju, is pine needles. The first step to make Songwha Baekilju is to mix cooked nonglutinous rice and glutinous rice, Nuruk (a wheat-based source of the enzyme amylase), and pine pollen, The second step it to ferment and the third is to distill. After this the following ingredients are added: pine needles, the fruits of Cornus officinalis, Maximowiczia chinensis fruits, and honey. After filtering the mixture is allowed to age for 100 days. It is then called ‘Songwha Baekilju.’ However, for a better more smooth taste and fragrant bouquet aging should be for at least three years like good qualified wines are left to aged in oak barrels for many years for a better taste.

Songjuk Ogokju is made of glutinous rice and five kinds of grains: Nuruk, pine needles, bamboo leaves, fruits of Cornus officinalis, Maximowiczia chinensis fruits, and Chrysanthemum.

The way to make is simple: mix all the ingredients and then leave on the 20℃ Ondol (Korean under floor heating system) for seven days and bury under the ground. Only two weeks later it becomes full fragrant liquor. A testament to its excellent quality is the fact that it was picked as the best folk liquor in 1998 by the president.

The most important things needed to make the best liquor are water, the ingredients, and the master’s knowhow and sincerity.
Suwang means the king of water, so it is no doubt its water is good.

All the ingredients such as rice, herbs, and for pine pollen to concoct the liquor are from Mt. Moak. So, Byeongam is busy every springtime gathering the pine pollen that flies all around Mt. Moak. At 120,000 won per kg the pine pollen from Mt. Moak is more expensive than from other places in Korea.

The temple sells only two kinds products, Songwha Baekilju (distilled liquor) and Songjuk Ogokju (brewed). Ogokju divides into two types depending on the alcohol content: 12% and 16%; and Baekilju 38%, and 43%. These two liquors go well with raw fish and fruit so they are the preferred alcoholic beverage in Japanese restaurants to accompany raw fish and sushi. They are also good with meat because they help digests fats. They are only sold via direct calling from customers or ordering online via the Internet and via distribution to post office shopping.

Inquiries  Cho Young-gui      
Tel  +82-63-221-7047          Fax  +82-63-221-7595      
E-mail  ben1212@paran.com        

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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