The spicy, complex flavors of Korean food are finally getting their due in cocktails. This past December, Korean-American chef Judy Joo opened Jinjuu in the heart of Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong District, with a focus on sojus and the chile-driven flavors of her heritage. A London branch opened at the end of 2014.
“We use kimchi mostly as an additional spice for cocktails,” says Kristian Breivik, the group bar manager, who previously worked at London bars such as Trailer Happiness, Casa Negra and Barrio Central. Jinjuu’s current focus is on kimchi juice, but Breivik’s team is preparing to use actual hunks of kimchi in drinks as well. The soon-to-be-released Kimchi Back is going to be a blend of whole cabbage leaves of kimchi, while its juices and spices will be served as a chilled chaser for soju shots.
Jinjuu is also exploring some traditional Korean drinks on their own and in cocktails. The suffix ju, not surprisingly, means “alcohol” in Korean, and makgeolli, also known as nongju or farmer’s liquor, is made from fermented wheat or rice and often inaccurately called rice wine in English. Makgeolli has been getting a lot of attention from a wide demographic, including hipsters. Bek Se Ju, a Korean spin on sake, is another ingredient the bar is experimenting with.
The Kimchi Mary is made with celery- and black-pepper-infused soju to give it an extra layer of heat. It’s then garnished with gochugaru chile flakes. The Spamarita combines the retro flavors of spam with tequila and is served as a short drink in a charming mini spam box. The Breakfast at JJ’s layers Hwayo 41 soju, yujacha honey tea and fresh yuga citrus juice and is topped with house-made aloe vera foam.
Breivik is mixing less familiar Korean ingredients with more mainstream ones to entice new palates to warm up to the range of flavors. A White Rice Negroni is made with Hwayo 41, Suze gentian root liqueur, vermouth and mandarin bitters and served on a lemon-zest-encased circular ice cube.
The bar is also experimenting with flavored sojus, such as peach, blueberry and pomegranate, that have long had traction in Korea, as well as sojus of different age statements. The Hwayo X. Premium, a rice-based soju that’s aged for five years in used bourbon barrels, is one of the offerings, as is the brand’s overproof soju, which is 53 percent ABV. Hwayo and soju-infusion flights, in favors such as goji berry and red plum, are also available for those who want to jump in and compare.