South Korea

Four Seasons Seoul’s New Bar OUL Features Korean Spirits – COOL HUNTING®

Four Seasons Seoul’s New Bar OUL Features Korean Spirits – COOL HUNTING®

Serving only Korean spirits, OUL is a one-stop destination to learn about the country’s traditional and modern drinks

When we reported on the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul in 2016, the luxury hotel had an Italian bar that was closed during the pandemic. Last year, the venue’s doors reopened under a new name and concept: OUL. With an exciting repositioning, the luxury hotel bar now celebrates its location. Offering an exclusive offering of Korean food and spirits (including their own Garlic and Ginger Vodka), as well as culturally-focused crafted cocktails (like Kimchi Highballs) and compatible Korean foods, OUL offers a journey into the past, present and future. Locals and tourists alike can discover the country’s unique take on spirits. To learn more about the relaunch, the menu concept and the burgeoning Korean spirits industry, we caught up with Alyssa Heidt, the hotel’s beverage creative director, and OUL’s head bartender Violet Park, who led the development of the cocktail menu.

Violet Park, head bartender at OUL.Photo by Josh Rubin

Can you tell us what the new concept for the bar is and how it was decided?

Violet Park: None of the posh international hotels have Korean bars or restaurants, so we wanted to do something unique while appealing to millennials at a more affordable price. In Korea, aside from makgeolli, people don’t actually know that we have so many types of Korean alcohol. We have a lot of traditional drinks, great wines and gin, so we wanted to promote Korean spirits.

Alyssa Heidt: During the pandemic, 90% of our hotel guest base was Korean, and now since we’ve reopened and travel restrictions have been eased, 70% are foreign guests. When this bar opened it was mainly aimed at the Korean market. Koreans like to eat and drink together. You rarely find only Koreans drinking. You always have some food. This is the basis of OUL, making it a food-friendly bar where you can easily order some food and drink cool Korean spirits. I see it from a foreigner’s point of view, and it’s a good entry point for our guests to become more familiar with Korean spirits and traditional Korean food.

Beverage Creative Director Alyssa Heidt.Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

Tell us about menu development.

AH: The way the menus are organized starts in the past. It fronts with very traditional drinks and then gradually changes to more modern style drinks.

VP: Traditional cocktails include Sikhye (a sweet rice drink) and Sujeonggwa (an apple, cinnamon drink usually served as a dessert) because they are traditional drinks, not alcoholic, but we make them stronger. We added Korean whiskey and bitters, so Koreans are familiar.

AH: 100% of everything in the bar is Korean, we don’t sell foreign vodka or foreign whiskey. We don’t work with big brands, we work with very small producers and very local people. We are now supporting a lot of growing businesses where there is a general return to craft in the spirits industry.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

Food considered food that drinks go with?

AH: We take traditional food, a lot of times it’s inspired by street food or what you can find in the market, and we give it a luxurious twist. For example, Tteokbokki (spicy rice cake). You can get it on the street or from Aunty’s, but this is lobster tteokbokki, so you get delicious lobster. It’s a really nice presentation and it’s a communal dish so you can eat and share.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

You talked about it being a great entry point for foreigners coming to explore Korea and Korean spirits. Do locals come to OUL too?

VP: Yes, young people – especially those in their 20s and 30s – like to come here for a drink after get off work. Our menu is not expensive compared to other pubs so they like to come here.

AH: There is a DJ every night so you can relax with a bottle of makgeolli and order some food.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

We talked about makgeolli. Most people are familiar with spirit soju. But can you tell us about some other spiritual categories?

VP: There are other Korean spirits like Cheongju and Yakju. Cheongju is similar to sake, but sake is made in Japan and Cheongju is made in Korea. Korean spirits are usually made from rice. So the cheongju is kind of light and floral and then a little sour, so it’s really good before you eat. Yakju is wine-like, very floral and light.

AH: Cheongju is essentially the clear liquid that rises to the top of the makgeolli. The makkolli are cloudy white and once you let it settle they skim off the top and that is Cheongju. Traditionally it used to be reserved for the nobility. In the past, this was considered the purest drink.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

Do you think there is a handcrafted movement here?

Ah: Of course. (with Bryan Do) is making Ki One whiskey (the first single malt whiskey produced in Korea); his previous company was a beer company, Hand and Malt. He truly started the craft beer industry in Korea. After that, it started getting more and more, and now there are a lot of good local Korean beers. So is cider. (There is one) made by a lovely company called Dancing Papa. They do a lot of cool things with cider. This is something I would like to see because the fruit here in Korea is really good.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul

Do you do any special programs or events?

AH: We have an artisan every month, not necessarily a wine artisan. It could be someone involved in a Korean craft, such as making kimchi or making glass or pottery. (One) month we had a pickle queen. We created a dish inspired by her – pork soft tofu stir fry with her kimchi – which you would traditionally drink to complement the makgeolli. We made a New York Sour style makgeolli sour, topped with bokbunja instead of red wine.

OUL is currently open Tuesday through Saturday from 6pm to midnight. Visit here for menu and hours of operation.

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