Every so often, I learn about a place that sounds unusual enough to visit — only to find out it’s much more awesome than anyone could’ve told me. Whether a stroke of good luck, a surprising find, or just a new feature added to a place, it goes from a ‘sort of cool’ to ‘holy crap awesome!’ kind of place.
Sansawon is one of those places.
Also called Sansa Garden and the Sool gallery (‘Sool’ or ‘Sul’ being an old Korean word for alcohol), Sansawon is a traditional liquor gallery / museum. It comes complete with the tools needed to make the home brews that were made centuries ago.
It’s unclear which pieces are replicas and which are original, but the process to making the drinks (and making them tasty) was definitely a multi-step process. As you’d expect from a place well-off the tourist trail, there’s almost no English to go around.
Old-school recipes, anyone?
The old-school peninsula, along with details of which regions made which kinds of alcohols. This goes well beyond the Andong soju, for example — seemingly every populated region made some kind of alcohol.
A rotating column in the center displays some of the steps of making alcohol — or, everything’s cuter when small figurines illustrate the process…
OK, so thus far the museum is reasonably interesting — not the most understandable sort of place, since virtually everything’s in Korean… It isn’t until you see the stairs heading down that the place takes a turn for the better.
Your admission fee gets you a small ceramic cup at the desk in the basement — and access to samples of dozens of different types of alcohol. Sure, you know makgeolli and soju and bokbunja and maybe a few other types — now prepare to be wowed.
To be clear, this is not the place to get drunk (stay classy, waygookins!), nor is it the place to start inhaling as much as you can. It does, however, make the tasting booths at E-mart or Homeplus look positively wanting. Sip, rinse (I’d bring a bottle of water with you — those bowls of water are for your cup, not your mouth), and repeat.
There’s supposedly some rice cakes and other traditional foods to complement the beverages, but I didn’t make a special effort to find them.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of opportunities to pick up the one(s) you liked the most. Some of them have fancier boxed sets, and almost all are cheaper than you’d expect.
After making your purchases (or seriously considering them), head out to the ‘farm’ to see some alcohol maturing. The official website calls it Sewollang:
While not seen in the picture, each jar is huge and very heavy. They’re also labeled with the numerical code indicating what it is and when it was bottled up.
Some more displays of old-school manufacturing — while we didn’t see it on a cold February weekend, there’s also a walking trail and a stream where you can float glasses of alcohol downstream.
For 2,000 won, it’s one of the best values in Korea. It loses a few points over the lack of English, but it’s daytrip-worthy from Seoul. Have some patience to arrive — sometimes, the most interesting places aren’t the easiest to reach.
Name: Sansawon (산사원) AKA The Sool Gallery
Address: Gyeonggi-do Pocheon-si Hwahyeon-myeon Hwahyeon-ri 512
Korean address: 경기도 포천시 화현면 화현리 512
Directions: Start from Dong Seoul Terminal (Gangbyeon station on line 2). Take a frequent bus to Il-dong (일동), which takes about an hour to arrive. Once at the small, rural terminal, face the road and turn right to walk down the sidewalk 100 meters to the bus stop. Look for the 66–1 or the 7 bus — the 66–1 comes only 5 times a day (6:30am, 10:30am, 1:40pm, 5:20pm, 9:00pm), while the 7 comes every 40 minutes (10:30am, 11:10am, 11:50am, 12:30pm, and so on). Either way, the bus will take you the several kilometers to Hwa-hyeon-3-ri (화현3리). From the bus stop, cross the road and keep walking the same way — be careful, since there are no sidewalks on this road! Follow the road as it goes around a slight left curve, then look for the first left. Walk down this side road and you’ll see Sansawon on your left. Enter the main building — push the call button to the left of the door to get in.
Hours: 8:30am-5:30pm (closed during Seolnal and Chuseok)
Admission: 2,000 won