The phenomenal popularity of K-pop culture in Singapore over the past decade – as it has in much of the rest of the world – has not only propelled Korean music globally, but also its food culture, as can be evidenced by the slew of Korean restaurants and bars just on Tanjong Pagar Road alone. One thing Korean though that’s not quite taken off – Korean alcoholic beverages. Hansul Korean Dining Bar, also located within that Tanjong Pagar Korean enclave, intends to change that.
Sure we’d willing drink Korean beer because it’s usually conveniently within reach to help put out the fire from that volcanic buldak, or the calpis-tasting makgeolli, but soju-bombs – or so-maek (소맥) – hasn’t even yet attained the dubious prominence of jello shots, for example, and widely condemned like the incendiary device they’re named like. What many don’t realise, of course, is that while commercial soju probably deserves their infamy, there is soju made by many craft producers across the Korean peninsula. Hansul Korean Dining Bar stocks a wide variety of soju from commercial and craft makers alike, and along with other alcoholic offerings has possibly Singapore’s most extensive collection of Korean liqueurs available.
There’s the Baekseju ($22++, above), for example, an interesting herbal wine made from glutinous rice, nuruk (a starter similar to Japanese koji), as well as 12 oriental herbs such as ginseng, ginger and cinnamon. It tastes exactly as it sounds like too, with strong herbal ginseng notes and a warming, spicy finish.
If that sounds too medicinal for you, the extremely fruity Moscato Soju ($18++, main picture) is actually made with Kyoho grapes; its bubblegum sweetness and smooth finish doing exceedingly well to hide its 21% ABV.
For those who enjoy beer, BSM Brewery’s R4 ($10++) is a 100% rice lager from the craft Korean beer brewery made with three different hop varieties and Korean yeast that’s replete with strong notes of coriander spice and an assertive bitterness.
For makgeolli fans, the Korean Omija Makgeolli ($19++) takes the locally harvested magnolia berries that’s first dried and then infused to provide salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter notes, all at once. If that sounds too challenging for your palate, the Choga Woori Rice Makgeolli ($19++, above) is a more straightforward and familiar drink that goes well with Hansul’s hwaro charcoal grilling dining concept.
But if you’re looking to experiment with soju, Hansul is the place to be with its range of premium, rare expressions. Quite a number of them are aged versions as well, such as those from Hwayo. We’d tell you more about them, but we’re not authoritative enough in premium soju to recommend them.
And that’s where it’s somewhat of a double-edged sword for Hansul – the interest in premium soju in Singapore is not at the level of spirits like whisky or gin, but if it ever picks up Hansul Korean Dining Bar is most likely the place to learn more about it.