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Spotlights and Deep-Dives

Buja Gin: Seoul's First Craft Gin Joins the Family of Korean Spirits

It’s hard to disassociate Korea from soju - the clear spirit in petite green bottles that comes in a plethora of flavours. Yet, it seems that small distilleries in Korea are trying to change the perception that all Korean has to offer is cheap, mass produced alcohol. A bold shift away from the popular crowd pleaser to more artisanal pursuits, Buja Gin has found its unique calling.


The past decade has seen a flurry of Asian distilleries spring up across the continent. Hailing from Thailand, Iron Balls launched their characteristically globular bottles of spirit made from coconut and pineapple. Peddler’s Gin from Shanghai released a fiery gin made from Sichuan peppers and Bhuddha’s hand, alongside many other botanicals sourced within China. The cosmopolitan Singapore is home to a number of distilleries, with Tanglin distilling the local hawker culture within their expressions. 

Korea, while comparatively late into the party, has dipped its toes in the artisanal spirit market as well. Soju is still the go-to choice for booze among the locals, often accompanying meals, BBQ restaurants and social gatherings. Slowly but surely, craft breweries and distilleries have been taking off in Korea, with Three Societies Distillery distilling Korea’s first ever whisky. Within the family of Asian gins, Buja Gin is Seoul’s representative.

PY Cho and Tom Cho, on the family farm. Image source:

Buja Gin, which translates to “father and son” (and also translating to “rich”), is aptly named after the duo, PY Cho and Tom Cho. The father, PY Cho, runs an organic herb farm of over 50 herbs in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do. Originally meant for cosmetics, herbs were harvested, dried, then kept in storage. Tom Cho, who grew up on the farm, left Korea to pursue a career in finance in Singapore. This was the start of Tom’s journey into distillation, where the avid gin drinker had an epiphany while returning home on holiday.

“I came to Korea on holiday and stumbled upon my father's herb warehouse. I walked into the drying room, and the aroma was intoxicating. I thought, “Why not make gin with all these different herbs?”

Gin, a Dutch invention, was originally made for medicinal purposes. Early renditions of gin was a clear spirit made by distilling juniper berries with alcohol from cereals, which became popular quickly within the United Kingdom. London dry gins dominated much of the gin market, with household brands such as Bombay Sapphire and Gordon’s gaining international fame.

Nowadays, gin has become more than just a juniper-based spirit since its hayday. As with many craft distilleries within Asia, gin is the go-to choice to showcase the flavours and uniqueness of a country’s botanicals. With Iron Balls, coconut and pineapple are used as base spirit ingredients instead of neutral grain spirit. Tanglin includes spices and herbs from different cuisines within Singapore, such as amchoor, cassia and angelica root.

Ariel shot of the farm. Credit: 미술관 : 味술관

Yet, as Korea’s first craft gin, Buja Gin goes a step further. “For Korean gin, local ingredients must be used!” Growing much of the uniquely Korean botanicals found in the gin, PY Cho insists that the botanicals had to be 100% locally sourced to support his fellow farmers and sustainability efforts - even committing to growing their own juniper berries. According to Tom, the juniper berry saplings they have planted in the farm will soon bear fruit and be ready for harvest.

What started out as a pursuit of interest during COVID quickly snowballed into a full distillery startup. However, not all’s smooth sailing with the small operation. With the Liquor Tax Act of Korea, the spirits made by Buja Gin aren’t gins - as far as technical classification goes. Given that all the ingredients are produced from Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do, the gins are classified as a “traditional liquor” under the Liquor Tax Act. “It was once an issue, as some people argued how gin could be a traditional liquor instead of table wine or soju.” The decision by Tom was a difficult but pragmatic one in the face of archaic laws. 

The father and son duo. Image Source:  

With Tom Cho handling the marketing and distillation of the gin, and PY Cho working on the local farm and providing much needed expertise to the project, the father-son duo has produced gins that are true-blue Korean.

Buja Gin Batch #001

The style of Buja Gin is one which does not shy away from its heritage, showcasing what the peninsula has to offer. Drinking gin neat, while uncommon, is Tom’s favourite way of appreciating the spirit, especially after a long day of work. This philosophy of making a uniquely Korean gin that doesn’t have to rely on tonics or mixers to be a great tipple gave birth to the first gin by PY and Tom Cho: Batch #001.

"If we reinterpret gin using only Korean agricultural products, it becomes our own gin, which is not found anywhere else in the world."


Buja Gin contains 15 botanicals, locally sourced. Image Source: Buja Gin Instagram @bujagin. Read our review by our contributor writer here!

The Buja Gin Batch #001 is made out of 15 botanicals, with each ingredient carefully selected to be as Korean as possible. For instance, instead of using the standard lemon or orange as the citrus component of the gin, Hallabong, an oblong citrus fruit from Jeju Island, is used instead to provide a mild citrus floral note to the base gin.  Mugwort, an ubiquitous herb used in soups and rice cakes, are also distilled in the gin. Swapping out juniper berries for local varieties, more pine needles are used to make up for the milder flavours of native juniper berries.

With this expression, botanicals are both cooked within the still and placed in vapour baskets, with the different heat exposures extracting different flavours and aromas. Distilled at roughly 70% abv, the gin is then cut with water to 44%, before aging in the bottle for roughly five months for the flavours to blend well together. Tom suggests the flagship gin be paired with a tonic, mixed into a martini, or as he most prefers: drunk neat. 

Omija Gin Batch #002

Image Source: Buja Gin

Omija Gin Batch #002, the second expression of Buja Gin, gets its pinkish hue from Omija berries, also known as Five-Flavour berries. As the name suggests, this unique berry has the full flavour spectrum: sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter. The red pigmentation of this berry makes it a popular candidate for pickling vegetables or colouring party drinks. Driving home the point of supporting local produce and sustainability, Buja Gin also pays attention to seasonality as well, having an expression each for spring, summer, autumn and winte

Hallabong fruit, Omaji Berries and Korean Juniper. Image Source: and @bugajin Instagram

Tom has also been pushing Buja Gin aggressively to the domestic market - getting the gin into bars and hotels. The Bartender’s Cut is made with a whopping 56% abv, boasting ginger and polygonatum (or known in Korea as dunggulle 둥굴레, a herb relative to lily of the valley and which rhizome is used for medicinal purposes) for a smooth but spicy gin. The higher ABV, coupled with strong flavours and a smooth mouth finish, gives bartenders more flexibility with their cocktails and G&T pairings.


Image Source: Buja Gin

Buja Gin has been bagging international awards (2021 Korea Liquor Awards, the 2021 UK Gin Masters Gold Medal, and the 2021 San Francisco World Spirit Competition (SFWSC) Bronze Medal) even in their current nascent stage, slowly gaining attention from outside Korea. Currently, Buja Gin exports to Australia, Singapore, US and the UK. 

The father and son duo. Image Source:

“Winning awards at international liquor competitions has helped the company to gain global recognition. Just like K-POP, I want to promote Korea and Korean liquor to the world.”

Concerning plans for the near future, Buja Gin aims to remain focused on helping out the local community, with emphasis on maintaining quality. Tom is still very much focused on the homeground, seeking to change the perception that traditional Korean alcohol should only be limited to soju, makgeolli, and cheongju, but broadened to include artisanal products made with love and care within Korea.

It has surely been an exciting decade for Asia, especially so in the gin department. For botany and foodie geeks (such as myself), Buja Gin’s hyperfocus on Korean botanicals is a welcome one. Who knows, maybe instead of pairing my next Korean fried chicken party with yakult sojus, I’ll be fixing up a distinctively Korean G&T instead! 



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