For Koreans, boilermakers are a shot in the heart

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For Koreans, boilermakers are a shot in the heart

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Shotaro Oshima, the Japanese Ambassador to Korea, and Han Seung-soo, former Foreign Minister of Korea, met in the Jupiter Hall of COEX InterContinental Hotel last Tuesday night. The two, smiling, shook hands and sat down at a table. A secret meeting, perhaps, to ease friction between the two nations? Perhaps, in a way: The two had come to listen to a lecture about poktanju (“bombshots,” known elsewhere as “boilermakers”) in Korea.
They were joined by 40 or so foreign and Korean opinion leaders who attended the lecture by Shim Jay-hyuk, the president of Hanmoo Development Co. for the seventh meeting of the weekly CQ Forum, hosted by the Corea Image Communication Institute.
Choi Jung-wha, the head of the institute, explained that the meetings were intended to help every Korean become a “global citizen.”
“For that, we need a CQ ― Culture Quotient, Communication Quotient and Cooperation Quotient,” she said.
Ms. Choi said she started the Korea CQ Program in order to give expatriates in Korea chances to better understand and experience the country, while giving Koreans opportunities to learn about global views and cultures. Moreover, it serves as an opportunity for Koreans and foreigners to network here.
The forum’s members include Philippe Thiebau, French Ambassador to Korea; Victor Wei, the Belgian Ambassador; Jean-Marie Hurtiger, chief executive of Renault Samsung Motors; Michael Zink, vice president of Citibank Korea; Klaus Fassbender, president of L’oreal Korea; Sohn Jie-ae, bureau chief of CNN, and Lee Ho-soo, vice president of Samsung Electronics.
Meetings are held every Tuesday evening until June 27, on topics such as “Korea: Fact and Fiction,” “Korea’s Competitive Edge: Korea’s IT,” “Relations between Europe and Korea ― from the viewpoint of France,” and “Korean politics and the role of NGOs in Korea.”
The poktanju meeting, however, has been the most unusual and animated. “It’s not only Koreans who drink poktanju,” Mr. Shim said. “In the movie, ‘A River Runs Through It,’ two brothers go to a bar in town and drink boilermakers. The older brother, heartbroken, orders a whisky mix and the bartender drops a whisky shot into a glass of beer, exactly the same way Koreans do ‘bombshots’.”
Mr. Shim, who is currently writing a book about Korea’s drinking culture, said that people here have drunk poktanju as early as the Three Kingdoms period, which ended in 668 AD. But according to urban legend, the current style of poktanju ― beer with a shot of whisky ― made its Korean debut in the early 1980s, at a meeting between prosecutors, policemen and journalists in Chuncheon, Gangwon province. The concoction quickly spread across the country.
One reason for its popularity is its relative cheapness, Mr. Shim said. In Korea, usually the highest-ranking person pays for the dinner outings and the subsequent drinking. Mr. Shim said in order to cut back on expenses, table heads preferred the fast-acting boilermakers. “If bombshots are passed around, the drinking party ends early and you save on the cost of side dishes,” he said.
Another reason is ― believe it or not ― health. “The alcohol content of straight whisky is 40 to 43 percent, but that drops to about 10 percent when whisky and beer are mixed in boilermakers,” he said.
“I’m not partial to boilermakers, I just want to let you know that it has good sides as well,” Mr. Shim said. “But two things must be avoided ― using premium whisky and forcing it on those who don’t want to drink it.” He explained that mixing a premium whisky with cheap beer was an “insult” to a maker of good whisky. “As long as these two [rules] are kept, I think drinking poktanju can be entertaining.”
The “bombshot,” however, has recently come under heavy fire. Leading the charge is Park Jin, a lawmaker in the Grand National Party, who took a hammer to poktanju glasses at the National Assembly to demonstrate his determination to end Korea’s love for poktanju. The stunt was done in reaction to a scandal involving Choi Yeon-hee, a former GNP member, who sexually harassed a woman after downing a number of glasses. Mr. Choi leads a movement to eradicate Korea’s “bombshot culture.”
Mr. Park spoke at the meeting about how mixing the drinks negates the value of both the beer and whisky, leads to drunk driving, child abuse and sexual violence, is a health risk when glasses are passed around, and in extreme cases could damage people’s livers.
“I’m not saying that all Koreans shouldn’t drink poktanju. But I think a ‘boilermaker’ could become a ‘spoilermaker,’ or even a ‘disaster maker,’” he said. “Even if I want to resist over-drinking, if the social atmosphere is heading in that direction, it’s very difficult for an individual to exercise control. Because [Koreans] have a group psychology for everything and especially drinking, you have to drink when you’re with other people if you don’t want to be excluded.”
Citing Mr. Park’s statements, Mr. Shim argued that Mr. Park should focus on the problem of overdrinking rather than on the boilermaker itself. “If you drink boilermakers, you actually drink less,” he argued.
“[Boilermakers] should at least disappear from Yeouido,” Mr. Park said, referring to the area of Seoul where the National Assembly is located, “because there have been cases in which lawmakers elected by the people caused trouble after drinking bombshots.”
“I think a drinking culture that prevents self-control must be changed,” he added.
As he left the room, Mr. Park joked with John Venn, the president of Chevron Corp. Korea, who drank a “Taekwondo bombshot” made by Mr. Shim during the lecture, asking if he was O.K. Mr. Shim demonstrated about 10 styles of poktanju from a list of 30.
“The lecture was very informative,” said Anna Venn, the wife of the Chevron president. “But I agree with Mr. Park,” she said, explaining that it’s alright to drink poktanju, but one should never feel forced to drink due to peer pressure.
“It was fun,” said Jean Audibert, the president of Shinhan BNP Paribas. “I have been exposed to the ‘bombshot culture,’ but it was interesting to know there are so many kinds of bombshots. Today, I’m well educated on how to prepare bombshots. It will be a big hit at my next meeting.”
When asked if he was okay after drinking a “Karade bombshot” Mr. Shim made, Mr. Audibert replied, “One shot is nothing. I’m French!”
“But three [shots of boilermaker] is tough and at my fourth shot, I wouldn’t remember anything,” he joked.
“I think making and drinking ‘bombshots’ is a part of entertainment. But certainly not the part of passing glasses around. Most foreigners hate that,” said Didier Beltoise, the general manager of COEX InterContinental Hotel, and the husband of Ms. Choi.


A glimpse of how to make boilermakers

1. “The Atomic”
A whisky shot is plunked into a glass filled with beer. Foam then puffs up like a mushroom cloud, hence its name. This is the basic boilermaker.

2. “Taekwondo”
Fill a glass to the brim with beer, place two chopsticks on top (slightly spread apart), then place whisky shot on top of the chopsticks. Punch the chopsticks to let the whisky drop into the glass.

3. “Golfshot”
Place two chopsticks on top of the glass of beer and then the whisky shot glass on top. “Putt” the whisky shot into the beer using another chopstick or a spoon.

4. “The Tornado”
Make a basic “Atomic” shot. Cover the glass with a napkin, hold on to the top and then flick it, while extending your arm. The beer will spin around like a tornado. This shot is said to have the smoothest mix. Before downing the contents of the glass, hurl the drenched napkin against a wall or ceiling to hear that satisfying “thwack!”

5. “Sperm”
Pour beer into a glass and place a whisky shot inside. Cover the glass with a paper napkin. Shake it lightly ― the napkin should tear very slightly. Pour a little milk in through the hole. One look and you’ll see how it got its name.


by Park Sung-ha
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