It's hard to disassociate Korea from soju, the clear liquor in little green bottles that comes in a myriad of flavors. However, it seems that the small distilleries in Korea are trying to change the perception that all Korea has to offer is cheap, mass-produced alcohol. A bold shift from popular crowd-pleasing towards more artisan pursuits, Buja Gin has found its unique calling.
The last decade has seen a spate of Asian distilleries spring up across the continent. Hailing from Thailand, Iron Balls has released its characteristically globular moonshine bottles made from coconut and pineapple. Shanghai Peddler's Gin has released a fiery gin made with Sichuan peppers and Bhuddha's hand, along with many other botanicals from China. Cosmopolitan Singapore is home to several distilleries, and Tanglin distills local hawker culture into its expressions.
Korea, while relatively late to the party, has also jumped right into the craft spirits market. Soju remains the drink of choice among the locals, often accompanying meals, barbecues, and social gatherings. Slowly but surely, craft breweries and distilleries are taking off in Korea,with Three Societies Distillery distilling Korea's first whiskey. Within the family of Asian gins, Buja Gin is the representative of Seoul.
PY Cho and Tom Cho, on the family farm. Image source:ycrowdy.com
Buja Gin, which translates to "father and son" (and also translates to "rich"), is named after the duo, PY Cho and Tom Cho. Father PY Cho runs an organic herb farm with over 50 herbs in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do. Originally intended for cosmetics, herbs were harvested, dried, and then stored. Tom Cho, who grew up on the farm, left Korea to pursue a career in finance in Singapore. This was the start of Tom's journey into distilling, where the avid gin drinker had an epiphany upon returning home for the holidays.
“I came to Korea for vacation and came across my father's herbal store. I entered the drying room and the aroma was intoxicating. I thought, "Why not make gin with all these different herbs?"
Gin, a Dutch invention, was originally made for medicinal purposes. Early versions of gin were clear spirits made by distilling juniper berries with grain alcohol, which quickly became popular in the UK. London dry gins dominated much of the gin market, with national brands such as Bombay Sapphire and Gordon's gaining international fame.
Today, gin has become more than just a juniper-based spirit since its heyday. Like many craft distilleries in Asia, gin is the right choice to showcase the flavors and uniqueness of a country's botanicals. With Iron Balls, coconut and pineapple are used as the base ingredients of the spirit instead of the neutral grain spirit. Tanglin includes spices and herbs from different Singaporean cuisines, such as amchoor, cassia, and angelica root.
Ariel fired from the farm. Credit:Art Museum: Museum of Taste
However, as Korea's first craft gin, Buja Gin goes one step further. “For Korean gin, local ingredients must be used!” Cultivating much of the uniquely Korean botanicals found in the gin, PY Cho insists that botanicals must be 100% locally sourced to support fellow farmers and sustainability efforts, even pledging to grow his own. Juniper berries. According to Tom, the juniper saplings they planted on the farm will soon bear fruit and be ready for harvest.
What started out as a search for interest during COVID quickly turned into a full-blown distillery start-up. However, not everything is easy with the small operation. With the Korean Liquor Tax Law, the spirits produced by Buja Gin are not gins, as far as technical classification is concerned. Since all the ingredients are produced in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do, gins are classified as "traditional spirits" according to the Liquor Tax Law. "It was once a problem, as some people argued that gin could be a traditional spirit instead of table wine or soju." Tom's decision was difficult, but pragmatic, in the face of archaic laws.
The father and son duo. Image source:soolddamhwa.com
With Tom Cho in charge of the gin's marketing and distillation, and PY Cho working on the local farm and providing the necessary expertise for the project, the father and son duo have produced gins that are truly Korean.
Gin Buja Lote #001
Buja Gin's style does not shy away from its heritage, showcasing what the peninsula has to offer. Drinking gin straight, while unusual, is Tom's favorite way to appreciate the spirit, especially after a long day at work. This philosophy of making a uniquely Korean gin that doesn't need to rely on tonics or mixers to be a great drink led to PY and Tom Cho's first gin: Batch #001.
“If we reinterpret gin using only Korean agricultural products, it becomes our very own gin, found nowhere else in the world."
Buja Gin contains 15 botanicals, locally sourced. Image source: Buja Gin Instagram @bujagin.Read our review from our contributing writer here!
Buja Gin Batch #001 is made from 15 botanicals, with each ingredient carefully selected to be as Korean as possible. For example, instead of using the standard lemon or orange as the citrus component of the gin, Hallabong, an oblong citrus fruit from Jeju Island, is used to provide a soft citrusy floral note to the base gin. Mugwort, a ubiquitous herb used in soups and rice cakes, is also distilled into gin. By switching the juniper berries to local varieties, more pine needles are used to offset the milder flavors of the native juniper berries.
With this expression, the botanicals are cooked in the still and placed in steam baskets, with different exposures to heat extracting different flavors and aromas. Distilled to around 70% abv, the gin is then cut with 44% water, before being aged in the bottle for around five months to allow the flavors to blend well. Tom suggests that the main gin be paired with a tonic,mixed in a martini, or as he prefers: pure drunk.
Gin Omija Lota #002
Omija Gin Batch #002, the second expression of Buja Gin, gets its pink hue from Omija berries, also known as five-flavor berries. As its name suggests, this unique berry has a full spectrum of flavors: sweet, sour, spicy, salty, and bitter. The red pigmentation of this berry makes it a popular candidate for preserving vegetables or coloring party drinks. Keeping in mind the objective of supporting local production and sustainability, Buja Gin also pays attention to seasonality, having an expression for spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Hallabong Fruit, Omaji Berries and Korean Juniper. Image source: korea.net and @bugajin Instagram
Tom has also been pushing Buja Gin aggressively in the domestic market, bringing the gin to bars and hotels. The Bartender's Cut is brewed at an impressive 56% ABV, with ginger and polygonate (or known in Korea asbuttock둥굴레, an herb related to the lily of the valley whose rhizome is used medicinally) for a smooth but tart gin. The higher ABV, along with strong flavors and a smooth aftertaste, gives bartenders more flexibility with their G&T cocktails and pairings.
Image source:ginebra buja
Buja Gin has won international awards (2021 Korea Liquor Awards, 2021 UK Gin Masters Gold Medal and 2021 San Francisco World Spirit Competition (SFWSC) Bronze Medal) even in its current fledgling stage, slowly gaining attention outside of Korea. Currently, Buja Gin exports to Australia, Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The father and son duo. Image source:donga.com
“Winning awards in international beverage competitions has helped the company gain worldwide recognition. Just like K-POP, I want to promote Korea and Korean liquor to the world.”
Regarding plans for the near future, Buja Gin intends to remain focused on helping the local community, with an emphasis on maintaining quality. Tom is still very focused on his homeland, seeking to change the perception that traditional Korean alcohol should be limited to just soju, makgeolli and cheongju, but expand to include artisan products made with love and care in Korea.
It certainly has been an exciting decade for Asia, especially in the gin department. For botany fans and foodies (like me), Buja Gin's hyper-focus on Korean botanicals is welcome. Who knows, maybe instead of pairing my next Korean fried chicken feast with yakult sojus, I'll whip up a distinctly Korean G&T!
Buja G&T: 30ml Buja Gin Batch #001, 60ml Tonic Water, garnished with ice, lemon wedge and mint sprig
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What is the famous Korean gin? ›
The face of the local Korean alcohol industry changes once again with the arrival of the first gin using Korean grown botanicals.Who made the first gin? ›
A Dutch physician who went by the name of Franciscus Sylvius is thought to be the 'inventor' of gin having started prescribing a juniper-based distilled spirit for medicinal purposes in 1550.Which country did gin come from? ›
Gin as we know it today, is based on an old Dutch liquor called 'jenever', a blend of grain-based malt wine and a neutral spirit infused with Juniper, which was used to mask its harsh flavour.What was gin originally called? ›
The name gin is a shortened form of the older English word genever, related to the French word genièvre and the Dutch word jenever.Which is the best Korean ginseng in the world? ›
CheongKwanJang is Korea's leading red ginseng brand with over 120 years of tradition. Through 120 years of manufacturing know-how and strict quality control, KGC prides itself on craftsmanship that has upheld the reputation of Korean ginseng for thousands of years.What is the most popular Korean spirit? ›
Soju. Soju is the most popular liquor in Korea. The most common type is diluted soju, which is mass-produced by mixing water with spirits, a process different from the traditional method.What is the oldest gin brand? ›
The Fleischmann Brothers establish their distillery in Ohio in 1870 and produce the first American dry (unsweetened) gin.What is the oldest gin still made? ›
Plymouth Gin is a style and brand of gin that has been distilled on the same premises on the Barbican in Plymouth, Devon, since 1793. The site of production, the Plymouth Gin Distillery, was built in 1431 and is reputed to have once been a monastery of the Dominican Order, widely known as "Black Friars".What is a gin in the Bible? ›
Gin, [N] [E] a trap for birds or beasts; it consisted of a net, ( Isaiah 8:14 ) and a stick to act as a spring. ( Amos 3:5 ) [N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible.What nationality drinks the most gin? ›
Which country drinks the most gin? Per capita, people in the Philippines drink more gin than any other country in the world.
What country is best known for gin? ›
Most gins are produced in the UK, with 1722 different Gins it's still the home of gin, despite the massive growth in Spain and the US and it's origins in the netherlands. With 702 different Gins the US ranks second. That's hardly a surprise, given the size of the country and it's experience in distilling.Why is gin called Blue Ruin? ›
Blue Ruin is a robust, assertive, juniper-forward blend that will appeal to traditionally minded gin drinkers. Its name harkens back to an epithet for gin used by anti-spirits crusaders during the “Gin Craze” that followed England's Glorious Revolution.Why was gin banned in England? ›
The Gin Act 1736 taxed retail sales at a rate of 20 shillings a gallon on spirits and required licensees to take out a £50 annual licence to sell gin, a fee equivalent to about £8,000 today. The aim was to effectively prohibit the trade by making it economically unfeasible.Why did soldiers drink gin? ›
It is known that during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) gin was provided to continental soldiers for its calming effects when going into battle; reason why the alcoholic was also termed 'Dutch courage'.Is American or Korean ginseng better? ›
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Preparation of KRG. The Korean Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommends a daily KRG intake of 1.5–10 g for medicinal purposes, which can be increased up to 30 g; however, for a dietary supplement, the KRG dose is limited to 2.4–80 mg of ginsenosides per day .Is American ginseng the same as Korean? ›
While they are both members of the Araliaceae or ivy family, Korean ginseng and American ginseng are two separate species from one another. This is likely due to their origins as well as how they grow, and you can classify American ginseng as Panax quinquefolius, and Korean ginseng as Panax ginseng.What is the demon called in Korea? ›
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What is the most powerful gin ever? ›
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Gordon's. The most popular gin from one of the most gin-crazy countries in the world, Gordon's uses a heavy hand with the juniper, so hopefully you like the feeling of drinking in a forest if you're going to grab a bottle.What is the oldest gin distillery in America? ›
1787 — Buffalo Trace, Kentucky, US
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Does gin go off? Gin is a very stable spirit and if unopened and stored correctly it will retain its quality and flavour. How long can you keep gin once opened? Once opened, gin can be stored for years without going bad, unless you keep it in an unsealed bottle next to a radiator or in direct sunlight.What is the shelf life of gin? ›
In summary, you can keep a bottle of Gin indefinitely unopened. Once you open your Gin and store it under the right conditions, we would recommend consuming it within a year. Gin does not go bad and you are highly unlikely to get ill by consuming a bottle of Gin that has been opened years.Who did not drink alcohol in the Bible? ›
`Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather's command.What is alcohol called in the Bible? ›
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Christians are allowed by God to drink alcohol, but we are forbidden to get drunk. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18; also see Proverbs 20:1, 23:20, Isaiah 5:22). This is a command from the Spirit-inspired apostle.What city in the US is famous for gin? ›
San Francisco: Whitechapel
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1. California: 1.2 Million Cases
The Golden State represented nearly 12% of the share of gin consumed by the U.S. in 2021.
What is the most loved alcoholic drink in the world? ›
Beer. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage worldwide. In fact, after water and tea, beer is the most commonly-consumed drink in the world.What gin does Snoop Dogg use? ›
INDOGGO® Gin by Snoop Dogg | ReserveBar.Who is the No 1 gin consumer? ›
Global gin market: leading brands based on sales volume 2021
In 2021, Ginebra San Miguel was by far the leading brand of gin worldwide, selling over 36 million 9 liter cases. Ranking second, Gordon's sold just over seven million cases of the distilled alcoholic drink.
Made from juniper berries, a type of “super fruit,” gin serves as one of the healthiest spirits ever created. It's low in calories, and the botanical properties that survive the distillation process present plenty of health-boosting reasons gin is healthy.Why does nobody like gin? ›
Most people get hit by this strong taste that lingers in their mouth when they drink it. Some say it is too bitter and has a weird taste, which is usually if they taste a traditional, dry gin that will have a strong juniper aroma.Is gin bad for females? ›
Potential Risks of Gin
In addition, the following groups should avoid gin entirely: Pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive. People under the legal drinking age. People with depression.
Much of the gin was drunk by women: consequently children were neglected, daughters were sold into prostitution, and wet nurses gave gin to babies to quieten them. This worked provided they were given a large enough dose!Why did soldiers drink gin and tonic? ›
The soldiers of the British empire in India soon discovered that they could mix gin, of which they had a ration, with lime and tonic water, which they were taken to prevent malaria, and enjoy it in the afternoon as the sun was going down, to make the quinine bitter flavours more pleasant.Why do British people like gin so much? ›
Gin was claimed by many to have been invented in the 16th century in Leiden, Holland by Dr. Sylvius de Bouve, and was originally prescribed as medical treatment, thought to aid circulation. It gradually made its way to the UK, where, due in part to its low cost, it became the drink of choice.Why do the English like gin so much? ›
The Dutch influx into England is integral to the story of gin's creation. The Dutch imported genever, both legally and by smuggling, and British distillers began to use this spirit as a measure by which to compare their gins. Britain had a Dutch King William III, in 1688.
Why do they burn gin before drinking? ›
Why Do People Light Shots on Fire? It warms the drink. Fire, as most of us are aware, is hot. The upshot of this is that briefly lighting a drink on fire will bring up its ambient temperature.What did English soldiers call gin? ›
The English nicknamed the drink “Dutch courage,” but what stuck was gin, a derivation of the Flemish word genever. Gin's popularity grew in England after William of Orange had become King of England following the Glorious Revolution of 1688.Why did people put gin in the bath? ›
It was called bathtub gin because it was made in a tall bottle — so tall, in fact, that it could not be topped off with water in the sink. Many people filled it up in the bathtub for this reason, and that's how it got its name! monumental, classic drink was a mask for low-quality, poor-tasting gin.What is the number 1 drink in Korea? ›
Soju is a clear, low-alcohol, distilled spirit that is the most popular liquor in Korea. If you haven't heard of it, well then you've got a blind spot, because it's been the best-selling liquor in the world, according to CNN.What is the most popular drink in Korea? ›
Soju is Korea's most famous famous liqour. As the ubiquity of these glittering green bottles in virtually every eating and drinking establishment should tell you: soju is Korea's national liquor.What is the best selling Korean alcohol? ›
1. Chamisul (참이슬) by Jinro: The Undisputed Soju No. 1 Alcoholic Drink. Chamisul is one of the most popular distilled spirits in Korea and it is also one of the most affordable.What do Koreans drink a lot? ›
In Korea, many people like "poktanju". Examples are soju and (maekju) beer = Somaek, foreign liquors and beers, and soju, beer and coke (kojingamlae). Poktanju makes people inebriated fairly quickly; nevertheless, people enjoy drinking it and drink it bottoms up.What is the drinking age in South Korea? ›
Alcohol. The legal drinking age in Korea is 19 years of age. Although it is legal to drink alcohol in public, disorderly conduct under the influence of alcohol can result in hefty fines and a visit to the police station.What do Koreans drink after dinner? ›
Ginger also aids with digestion which is why Sujeonggwa is served at the end of a Korean meal, especially at Korean BBQ restaurants where one is most likely to need a LOT of help with digestion..What religion does South Korea follow? ›
A substantial number of South Koreans have no religion. Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism) and Buddhism are the dominant confessions among those who affiliate with a formal religion. Buddhism and Confucianism play an influential role in the lives of many South Korean people.
What country makes the best gin? ›
Key facts from the World Gin Map
Most gins are produced in the UK, with 1722 different Gins it's still the home of gin, despite the massive growth in Spain and the US and it's origins in the netherlands. With 702 different Gins the US ranks second.
Makgeolli is Korea's oldest alcoholic beverage. Historical records show that Koreans have been drinking makgeolli from as far back as the Goyreo Dynasty (918-1392). In fact, makgeolli was one of the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverages of the time.What alcohol tastes sweet Korean? ›
Soju is traditionally made from rice, but can also be made with alternative starches like wheat and sweet potatoes. Unlike other clear alcoholic beverages like gin and vodka, soju is slightly sweet when you drink it neat due to sugar added during the distillation process.What do Koreans drink after drinking alcohol? ›
The Koreans have a cure for your inevitable soju hangover -- a soup called haejangguk, which means “stew to cure a hangover.”