MON, AUGUST 08, 2022
Munbaeju: traditional wild pear liquor with pleasant scent
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Munbaeju: traditional wild pear liquor with pleasant scent
  • By Korea.net
  • 승인 2022.07.29 03:59
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Korean culture is taking the world by storm. Spanning popular culture such as pop music, TV dramas and films, Hallyu (Korean Wave) is expanding its influence in sectors like literature and performing arts. Korean food is no exception. From dishes served at Buddhist temples to kimchi, bulgogi (marinated grilled beef) and bibimbap (bowl of rice mixed with meat and assorted vegetables), Korean cuisine is loved by people around the world. 

Despite the global fervor for many aspects of Korean culture, alcohol is relatively lacking in recognition. Booze is a must in a setting with good music, dance and food. So why is Korean alcohol relatively unknown to most outside of Korea? 

The Korea.net series "Hidden charms of Korea – Sool" explores the nation's alcoholic beverages and culture and the stories behind them. 

Soju, which is widely known as coming in a green bottle as shown in numerous Korean films and TV series, and makgeolli (milky rice wine) comprise a small sample of the wide diversity of Korean alcohol. In the past, Koreans loved dance and music and impressed the world with their cuisine. They also made alcohol in creative ways with ingredients depending on the weather and region. 

Part 1 of the article covers alcohol loved by Koreans and Part 2 the foods that go great with such drinks as well as Korean alcohol culture. Part 3 covers the voices of people who love alcohol. This series is thus an extensive look at the largely unknown appeal of Korean alcohol to be shared with the world.
The yellow non-glutinous millet is used to make mitsool, or the alcohol produced after the first distillation, of munbaeju (wild pear liquor), and sorghum is used to make deotsool, a malt that combines grain, yeast and water and is added to mitsool. Designated a National Intangible Cultural Heritage, munbaeju boasts a pear-like scent though made from mixed grains.
The yellow non-glutinous millet is used to make mitsool, or the alcohol produced after the first distillation, of munbaeju (wild pear liquor), and sorghum is used to make deotsool, a malt that combines grain, yeast and water and is added to mitsool. Designated a National Intangible Cultural Heritage, munbaeju boasts a pear-like scent though made from mixed grains.

Entering the brewery Moonbaesool in the town of Tongjin-eup in Gimpo, Gyeonggi-do Province, Korea.net staff saw a fire pot, wooden deck and ground where the cereal grass types non-glutinous millet and waxy sorghum can be sown. 

Across from that was a tidy brewery covering 1,652 square m in a modern building, and next to the dry ground were three wild pear trees with the fragrance of jangdokdae (traditional earthen pots) and munbaeju (wild pear liquor).

Right after greeting the staff, Moonbaesool CEO Lee Seung Yong said he had to include non-glutinous millet as an ingredient and swiftly led them to the brewery. As soon as they entered, the distinct smell of alcohol brewing piqued their noses. 

Making munbaeju first requires brewing mitsool, the alcohol produced after the first distillation, with non-glutinous millet and adding sorghum to make deotsool, a combination of grain, yeast and water that is added to mitsool.

An alcoholic beverage is divided into yiyangju (yimeaning "two") samyangju (sam "three") and sayangju (sa "four"), referring to how many timesdeotsool is added to mitsool. The more deotsool is added, the higher the alcohol by volume (ABV) and deeper the aroma. Munbaeju is classified as samyangju. 


Munbaeju got its name from its distinct pear-like taste and fragrance (munbae means "wild pear"). The only additives are non-glutinous millet, sorghum and nuruk (yeast), but the drink exudes an elegant and fragrant pear scent. Because of its fruit scent, the beverage is considered a banghyangju, which literally means "alcoholic drink with a pleasant scent." 

Rice is the main staple in Korea, so many types of traditional booze use it as their main ingredient. Yet such drinks hardly have non-glutinous millet and sorghum, two grains that are abundantly produced in Pyeongyang, North Korea, wheremunbaeju was mostly made. 

Lee said, "The main ingredients (non-glutinous millet and sorghum) must be of good quality for the drink to taste good," adding, "We are analyzing and managing ingredient quality with the National Institute of Crop Science."

The taste and quality of the liquor can be enhanced only if the base industry flourishes. The CEO said he is learning to make munbaeju from his father, Lee Gi-choon, an expert in the field who is passing down a National Intangible Cultural Property. 

CEO Lee extracted munbaeju from sojutgori (distiller) in the traditional way, and asked Korea.net staff to try some of this "very precious alcohol."

Because of its high ABV, he poured it into small cups. A sniff was all it took to feel the pear aroma. The ABV was 40% like whiskey but the liquor went down smoothly and left no lingering aftertaste.


Munbaeju was served at banquets hosted by all three inter-Korean summits in 2000, 2007 and 2018. As a distilled soju with a high ABV, it can be served like a cocktail or on the rocks.

On how to drink munbaeju, the CEO suggested that for those reluctant to drink alcohol with a high ABV, mix (plain) tonic water and munbaeju in a 3:1 ratio and add juice or extract with a strong fragrance such as grapefruit, herb or yuja (honey citron). As culinary complements, he suggested raw fish, lamb meat or beef tenderloin. 

For a lighter spread, he recommended drinking it while eating ginger sugar flakes, saying an unbeatable combination is the piquant and sweet taste of the cake with the bitterness and wild pear fragrance of munbaeju.

This shows munbaeju (wild pear liquor) being made by distilling alcohol through a sojutgori (distiller)
This shows munbaeju (wild pear liquor) being made by distilling alcohol through a sojutgori (distiller)

On the merits of traditional Korean alcohol, he said, "Our alcohol is good," adding, "Whiskey, vodka and wine are all great alcoholic beverages, but traditional Korean liquor does not pale in comparison, so please try it."

"I don't want to say ours is the best. I just want to say our alcohol is also quite good, so please have faith and try it."


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