Traditional Korean Rice Wine and Soju Made with Chestnut
Chestnut rice wine, mulberry wine, and soju brewed in the traditional way have entered the Taiwanese market under a contract signed by Sagok Distillery with Hansen International Co. Sagok Distillery is a Korean agricultural corporation producing wine and soju with regional specialties, chestnut and rice. The contract for annual export of US$ 100,000 worth of its products to Taiwan was concluded at the Seoul International Wines & Spirits Expo where Sagok Distillery attracted the eyes of a Taiwanese dealer by representing the distinct taste of traditional Korean liquor. Four types of products are being shipped: Chestnut Makgeolli, Chestnut Flower-Flavored Liquor, Chestnut Soju (Korean distilled liquor), and Mulberry Wine.
Makgeolli (Korean rice wine) and soju are traditional Korean liquors. Sagok Distillery is negotiating similar contracts with companies in China, the US, and Japan and hopes that its products reach to local consumers in those countries. In fact, makgeolli is not an easy product for export because in many cultures people prefer clear liquor with no sediment. However, considering the influence of Korean Wave overseas, the company has decided to give it a try.
Mr. Im Heon-chang, CEO of Sagok Distillery, said, “Hallyu (Korean culture wave) has been tremendous in Southeast Asia. Niche markets will emerge as people, out of curiosity, try Korean drinks that appear in TV dramas. The more consumers try makgeolli in every country, the larger the export volume will become.”
Exporting Premium Makgeolli and Soju Made with Chestnuts
Chestnut Makgeolli is a premium product made with 70% rice and 30% chestnuts, both ingredients coming from the areas in Sagok Distillery’s vicinity. Yeast is added to steamed rice to stimulate fermentation. The type of yeast selected for the product is appropriate for fermentation at low temperature for one week. Chestnut Makgeolli is then sterilized so that it can be sold in large supermarkets and exported overseas. To avoid degradation of taste resulting from sterilization, the product’s alcohol content has been raised to 8%, which is higher than that of regular rice wines.
Chestnut Flower-Flavored Liquor is made by filtering out the sediment from Chestnut Makgeolli. The liquor is left to mature for 30 to 60 days at the temperature of 27–28℃. In this process, the liquor becomes smoother and obtains the rich scent of chestnut. The alcohol content of the product is 13%.
Chestnut Soju is distilled Chestnut Flower-Flavored Liquor. To ensure that the liquor maintains a good taste, it is distilled at the low temperature of 47℃. Sagok Distillery learned this technique from Korean and foreign companies that specialize in the production of luxury spirits. There are two products in this line. Only distillation is applied to Wangyul Chestnut Soju, whereas the deeper flavor and scent of Jin-Que-Nam-Ju is achieved by additionally leaching several medicinal herbs, such as Chinese matrimony vine, omija (schizandra), and cordyceps militaris. Both products have the alcohol content of 25%.
The products offered by Sagok Distillery are different from their competitiors in several aspects. Firstly, they contain many healthy nutrients while tasting good. They are also unique in the use of agricultural products special for the Gongju area. For these reasons, Sagok Distillery is able to market them as luxury liquor. Mr. Im said, “The differentiated ingredient, chestnut, arouses curiosity. It is also very nutritious, so our products clearly stand out.”
Aiming to Enter the World’s Luxury Liquor Market with Chestnut Soju
Sagok Distillery takes pride in its history of 60 years in the production of traditional Korean liquor. Mr. Im has been at the helm of the company for almost two decades since 1997. Chestnut Makgeolli was launched in 1999 for the purpose of offering liquor made with local specialties. At first, it was mostly distributed only in Gongju. Since 2008, however, the company has been striving to increase the brand value, and its Chestnut Makgeolli has come in the limelight nationwide.
With the introduction of chestnut-peeling machines last year, Sagok Distillery started to use more chestnuts for its products. This was done in order to gain recognition as a producer of unique regional liquor.
Mr. Im said, “In the past, Koreans used to drink much makgeolli in rural areas, during the busy farming season. But the mechanization of labor has led to fewer opportunities for farmers to drink alcohol together. Now, most of the consumers are people living in large cities.”
Located in a small city, Sagok Distillery is inevitably less competitive compared to the breweries of larger cities. All of the top Korean companies producing traditional liquor employ many experts in trade and marketing, whereas smaller-sized distilleries have a hard time catching up since they cannot invest in foreign marketing. They realize that export overseas is a lucrative niche market and have to make a greater effort to survive in the competition.
Mr. Im explains, “If we don’t count water, the amount of chestnut in the ingredients for our liquor is over 30%. By increasing the chestnut content, we are able to appeal to consumers, highlighting how our products are different from those of our rivals.”
He continued, “Among the traditional Korean liquors, chestnut soju is a unique, competitive product appropriate for export. Our ultimate goal is to advance with it to the global luxury liquor market.”