Explore Seoul’s vibrant spirit with an array of elevate libations at Oul
Get under Seoul’s skin to experience the city’s most authentic, undressed stateat OUL of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul.
As iconic as the sights of Seoul are to the rest of the world today, a wealth of heritage remains untapped, calling only to a small handful who yearn to see beyond what first meets the eye.
Cradled by fast-moving information flows, a glitzy facade of lights and a grand framing of mountains, Seoul’s roots are hidden in plain sight. Perhaps not by choice, but this observation exists for good measure. It takes patience and empathy to appreciate the beauty of South Korea’s crown jewel as an outsider because of how far it has come in a short amount of time. Seoul is infinitely more complex and layered than its joyful cultural exports, a bevvy of curious contradictions still trying to unravel itself even at the mercy of the contemporary.
Yet navigating its tumultuous history can prove extremely heartening, and with the hands of the right guide, illuminating even of this city’s true, earnest allure.
Thankfully, one of the big-hearted guides includes the celebrated host, Four Seasons Hotel Seoul. The luxury hotel group’s outpost in Gwanghwamun resplendently highlights the salient features of Korean culture with thoughtful touches of details. Each of its 317 guest rooms is adorned with decor such as ceramic vases and hanbok-inspired headboards, while the property houses 160 works made by Korean artisans.
But their true feat of hospitality shines at OUL, which offers both locals and guests a means to enjoy Korean culture in the most authentic way possible — by way of sul, or alcohol.
The secret speakeasy, tucked away on the second floor of the premise, is an ode to the rich and artful drinking culture of Seoul, a product of the city’s long-standing tradition of liquor crafting and fermentation. OUL, springing from the English spelling of Seoul, is pronounced “owl” in tribute to its night owl clientele. With an interior and tableware that references all things Korean-inspired and sourced, they are remixed into out-of-the-box offerings that titillate even the most adventurous drinkers.
OUL’s library of spirits cleverly charts a chronological exploration of the city from its golden age of home-brewing to today’s future-forward age of experimentation in a three-sectioned menu. Together, they make for the perfect introduction to what is arguably the strongest social glue of Korean society.
The first curation, which highlights traditional local beverages, turns classics like hwachae, a fruit punch, into a cocktail, while sikhye — a fermented malt and rice Korean dessert drink — is reimagined with craft soju, pumpkin cordial, refined milk, and chai tea. The presentation of these drinks is foreigner-friendly, the names romanising Korean pronunciations like Wooyoo (which means milk), a concoction of omija (five-flavour berry) makgeolli, milk and dalgona ice cream.
Gwasilju (a fermented fruit liquor), makgeolli and soju are also available for those already well-acquainted with Korean drinking culture with a difference. They are now offered with a side of neon lights, plush, velvet sofas and a DJ spinning the latest remixes of the K-pop charts.
“Turn of the Century”, the title of the next section, amps the innovation levels up with a unique Gyeongseong-era sophistication — less trompe l’oeil and more novel flavours that spin-off familiar tastes, as was the capital’s different name during the Japanese colonial era. The classic sujeonggwa cinnamon punch is enlivened with apple cider, crystallised fruits, roasted cinnamon cordial, aroma bitters, and barrel-aged soju, while the trendy poktanju (bomb shot) gets an extra vial of sweetness thanks to the maple syrup and smoked cranberry embellishments.
In the final and most experimental grouping of the trio, the inventive Kimchi Highball, a riff off of Italian arancini, combines green chili soju, kimchi jus, kimchi salt and a stir-friend piece of kimchi to spotlight the mixology mastery of the folks behind OUL. The sour and spicy kick from the fermentation makes this a must-try on the extensive menu. Small-batch sodas from local producer On a Lark present three equally innovative flavours: ginger and rose, lemon and lavender, and omija — a holistic cultural masterclass in liquids.
A good drinking session also needs the right anju or side dishes, and OUL does not skim on its street food-inspired offerings. Their tteokbokki (rice cake) rendition replaces eomuk (fish cake) with luxurious chunks of lobster. Seafood jeons there are especially fluffy while their lamb jerky, presented with gimbugak, or deep-fried laver and coated in glutinous rice powder batter and chilli powder, instantly converts those who never could take mutton.
You could say dining in this manner is pretentious when the real pojangmachas (street food carts) are just around the corner on Jongno-ro. But the magic of OUL is its steely connection to the truth of its roots and the liberating skies of internationally recognised levels of mixology mastery. The concept appeals even to the true-blue Seoulites because of its seasonality, tongue-in-cheek creations and non-kitschy elevation. If you are heading to Seoul for the upcoming holiday season, you know where to experience the halfway point of the traditional and modern of Seoul, the local way.
Four Seasons Hotel Seoul is always on the lookout for meaningful cultural conversations, and the upcoming festive season is no different.
This year, the property presents an inspiring collaboration between two iconic Danish brands, Fritz Hansen and Bang & Olufsen, as guest rooms are decked out with high-fidelity sound equipment to artful lighting and furniture. Special festive gifts embodying the essence of all three brands will be included in an exclusive winter room package, available in limited quantities on a first-come, first-served basis.
This article originally appeared on Men’s Folio.
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