Visiting tipplers have no reason to suffer from dry throats at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. They are, after all, in one of the heaviest-drinking nations in Asia, one which offers a wide range of liquid intoxicants – traditional, neo-traditional and international – to the thirsty.
Makgeolli, a traditional farmers’ rice brew that is unique to Korea, is a must. This milky-looking, sweet-and-sour libation comes in hundreds of varietals from across the country and boasts an alcoholic content between beer and wine. For a heftier kick, soju, a traditional grain spirit similar to vodka, is cheap, cheerful, ubiquitous and notorious. Chug prudently.
Neo-traditional concoctions such as Baekseju, a herb- and ginseng-infused rice wine, are a further option. They are sweet and full-bodied, rather like Western fortified wines.
Korea’s mass-market lagers are nothing to write home about, but its growing range of artisanal ales are often excellent. In Gangwon Province, where the Olympics are underway, the craft beers of choice come from Gangneung City’s Budnamu, a former makgeolli brewery converted into a micro-brewery and taphouse.
Naturally, various international wine, beer and spirit brands are widely available.
But the most curious grog available in Gangwon is none of the above. That honor goes to Beolddeokju – literally, “Erection Wine.”
One glance at the packaging makes clear that this is an adult beverage. Much liquor marketing in Korea is wooden, but there is a fecund imagination at work here: The glass bottle is capped with a porcelain helmet – a laughing male head surmounted by a penis.
It is also liquid proof that Viagra, Cialis et al have not captured the entire Asian market for gentleman’s pick-me-ups: Beolddeokju is the Korean equivalent of Vietnam’s (in)famous snake wines.
Many Northeast Asian aphrodisiacs have bad reputations. One item considered good for male “stamina” in Korea is dog – the farming and slaughtering of which has raised ire in the West. Exotic Chinese medicinal ingredients such as tiger bone and rhino horn demand such high prices that they have sparked extensive poaching of the animals in question, driving some sub-species to the brink of extinction.
There is a fecund imagination at work here. The glass bottle is capped with a porcelain helmet – a laughing male head surmounted by a penis
Judging by the ingredients listed on Beolddeokju’s label, there is little harm being done to flora, fauna or ethics. It is a rice-based wine containing chestnuts, black and brown sugar, and – possibly the core ingredient – extracts from some 15 fruits and roots.
This stand-up beverage is not falling-down strong: At a relatively genteel 13%, Beolddeokju is hardly a stiff drink. Even so, the middle-aged lady who sells a bottle of this male-order booze to your correspondent – for research purposes, naturally – insists, with a wicked laugh, “It’s strong!”
Perhaps. There is no research indicating that it has produced any hardened drinkers, and your correspondent did not note any concrete results. Still, the experiment was not a complete flop. A rich, reddish gold in color, Beolddeokju offers a powerful nose and firm herbal flavors fleshed out with fruity notes; overall, it is invigorating.
And anyone who prefers a soft drink with the hard stuff could mix it with ginger ale.
Beolddeokju is unlikely to cause erectile-dysfunction pharmaceutical manufacturers to suffer from flaccid profits, but it may make a fine souvenir of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Thanks to its penile packaging, it is sure to stand out in any liquor cabinet.
Beolddeokju retails at gift shops and souvenir stalls across northern Gangwon Province for KRW10,000 (just under US$10)