Kim Ji-yeon’s at-home bar (Courtesy of Kim)
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, drinking at home has become the new norm.
It is nearly impossible to grab a drink after work with friends in the Seoul city area, with drinking and dining establishments only allowed to operate until 10 p.m. and nonessential gatherings of five or more people banned.
Rather than just quenching the immediate thirst with beer from a supermarket or reaching for the same old green bottle of soju, more people -- not just alcohol aficionados -- are joining in on the at-home bar trend, imbibing delicious looking cocktails and whiskeys.
In a December survey of 2,000 respondents who have consumed alcohol in the past six months, 36.2 percent of those polled said there have been changes to where they drink after the pandemic, from restaurants, bars and pubs to their own homes of homes of their friends, according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
Highball (Courtesy of Kim)
“It is about having the right drink, even if it is just a glass,” said Kim Ji-yeon, an office worker in her early 30s. Kim recently took up the hobby of stocking up a home bar.
“Though I am not really a heavy drinker, I liked to discover new bars and simply enjoy the experience of having a nice drink at a well-decorated bar before the pandemic. But after the virus crisis, that joy has been lost,” she said.
Kim has turned to mixing drinks at home, hopping on the “home-tending” trend, a portmanteau of home and bartending.
“I could say it is my new hobby to take photos of the drinks and upload them on my social media account. I just refer to YouTube to learn how to mix the drinks. I think I might as well try to earn a certificate for a Craftsman Bartender while I am at it,” she said.
Home bartending kit by Italian liquor brand Campari (GS Retail)
Sales of cocktail liquors went up by 225.5 percent in the first quarter this year, compared to the same period last year, according to GS Retail’s analysis of sales at its convenience store franchise GS25 in April.
“As at-home bar became a trend, the sales of cocktail liquors surpassed that of wine and whiskey,” said Lee No-ah, GS Retail merchandiser for alcoholic beverages. “We plan to present more diverse products, reflecting the home bar demand which has been growing more professional.”
Owing to the trend, Namdaemun Market’s liquor shopping mall is also enjoying a boom. Though there aren’t many liquor stores at the shopping complex, the narrow hallways are packed with young crowds on the weekends purchasing imported liquor.
Namdaemun Market’s liquor shopping mall is packed with customers on a Saturday afternoon. (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)
An old, historic market -- usually filled with more elderly crowds or foreign tourists looking for a unique experience -- is frequented by young hipsters these days who are searching for imported liquor at reasonable prices.
“I could buy the liquor at convenience stores or department stores, or liquor shops in my neighborhood, but it is much cheaper here,” said an office worker in his early 30s who gave his surname as Park.
Like many virus-wary Seoulites, Park has opted to stay at home, instead of meeting up with friends outside to grab some drinks.
“Though there aren’t price tags like a supermarket or department stores here, there is an Excel file on the web about the liquor prices at Namdaemun Market that I can refer to,” he said.
“Whiskeys are easy to store, and there is much to learn. There are YouTube channels and books to refer to. It is more than just drinking alcohol. It is more like learning how to cook,” Park said.
By Im Eun-byel (firstname.lastname@example.org
Must-have items for at-home bar
--Round ice cube mold
--Muddler (can be replaced with a teaspoon)