Holy suds! A drink that truly is for medicinal purposes

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Holy suds! A drink that truly is for medicinal purposes

By now you must have realized that summer on the Korean Peninsula is not a walk in the park. You have to fight humidity that makes your waterproof mascara watery, and you end up with a sunburn more often than a suntan. And warnings about typhoons come just in time for the weekends.

It's no wonder then that Koreans have plenty of ways to beat summer heat, including recipes for extra-hot chicken soup, which is still boiling when served. Dog meat is another seasonal favorite, peculiar and controversial. But Brigitte Bardot wouldn't object to the latest way to counter the oppressive summer heat: drinking oriental medicine beer.

You might think that drinking alcohol and maintaining good health don't go together. But Koreans have a wide variety of drinking habits, including a fondness for boilermakers and the local vodka-like liquor soju, and are also obsessed with keeping healthy. Not unexpectedly, the two aims have been reconciled by local brewers, which have concocted various types of draft beer with supposedly salutary additives like herbs, fruits and coffee.

At a glance, the new oriental medicine beer looks like a dark beer. But once you take a sip, you get a bitter taste from a mix of herbs: arrowroot, the dried fruit of the Chinese matrimony vine, jujube and licorice root.

Arrowroot is said to be efficacious in detoxicating the liver, while the fruit of the Chinese matrimony vine is supposedly good for hangovers. Jujube and licorice root are often used in tonics, and are thought to boost energy and vigor. But do the ingredients work when mixed with alcohol? Park Sang-gwon, in charge of marketing this new recipe at the local brewery Jjokki Jjokki, is more than ready to give you a positive answer.

"It's like killing two birds with one stone," Mr. Park said. "You can maintain your health while having some fun with this new taste." Though none of its health benefits are scientifically proven, oriental medicine beer already has a lot of enthusiasts.

"Customers at our franchise stores quite like the idea of this novel recipe, especially because it has ingredients that are good for health," Mr. Park said.

To meet the various tastes of Korea's bacchanals, local bars have come up with a number of other flavors they add to draft beer, other than the oriental medicine ingredients. The additives provide not only different flavors but also different colors. A coffee draft beer with extract of espresso beans makes for a dark brown brew, while lemon added to draft beer is light yellow. "Coffee draft beer and the plum flavor in a green color are especially well-received by our women customers," Mr. Park said.

Another concoction, which was quite sought-after during last month's World Cup, is made by adding a small red fruit, omija, which are reputed to have five different flavors: sweet, sour, hot, salty and bitter. At a bar serving the red brew, you can get the taste-bud tickling extras for just 1,000 won (about 85 cents) more than a normal draft beer would cost.

If you don't want to try the new brews, be sure to double check whenever you order a glass of dark beer -- it could be a foamy cappucino.

by Chun Su-jin

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