Korean traditional liquor shines amid high demand from young consumers

2023.11.22 15:31:02 | 2023.11.22 16:17:39

Bottle shop [Photo by Ahn Byung-joon]이미지 확대

Bottle shop [Photo by Ahn Byung-joon]

South Korea’s traditional liquor industry is booming, with a significant increase in the number of retail outlets specializing in Korean traditional liquors such as makgeolli. Demand is being driven by millennials and young consumers who are value-conscious consumers seeking unique experiences.

According to the Korean Traditional Liquor Association on Tuesday, there are now more than 120 bottle shops specializing in traditional liquor nationwide, up from the single digit figure just three or four years ago.

The number of traditional liquor shipments has more than doubled in just two years. According to National Tax Service statistics, the value of traditional liquor shipments was 62.6 billion won ($48.4 million) in 2020, but it more than doubled to 162.9 billion won in 2022.

Traditional liquor is strictly limited to folk liquor made by those with recognized skills in the liquor sector, such as intangible cultural heritages, and local specialty liquor made by agricultural producer organizations using local agricultural products as the main ingredient. It does not include general rice liquor such as Jangsoo Makgeolli, medicinal liquor, cheongju, fruit liquor, and distilled soju. If the scope of traditional liquor is expanded to include general liquor, the value of shipments totals 1.33 trillion won, or 13.4 percent of the total liquor market.

The share of traditional products in total alcoholic beverage shipments was 0.7 percent in 2020 but topped 1 percent for the first time in 2021 and increased to 1.6 percent a year later. The traditional liquor industry expects this year’s growth to be in the low 1 percent range.

As consumption growth has created a stable market, the number of traditional liquor breweries producing various types of liquor has also increased.

The number of traditional liquor manufacturing licenses increased by 25 percent in three years, from 1,163 in 2019 to 1,561 in 2022. Notably, local specialty liquors that utilize local agricultural products are driving the growth of traditional liquor. The value of local specialty liquor shipments more than quadrupled from 33.6 billion won in 2018 to 152.3 billion won in 2022.

By Ahn Byung-joon and Minu Kim

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