Fermenting Passions: Kimchi in Cocktails

Image: mokbar (via Facebook)

Kimchi and its liquid bring authenticity and uniqueness to NYC bar.


Fermentation is ripe at the new mokbar in Brooklyn, NY, the new restaurant/bar from Esther Choi that showcases Korean soul food and the Korean drinking culture, including the use of kimchi.

The bar uses the liquid that remains after kimchi has been fermented, and it makes several kimchis. During the summer, it has seven: napa cabbage; white napa cabbage; cucumber; daikon radish; garlic chive; sesame leaf; and white asparagus.

The restaurant makes two types of kimchi, but patience is important: It takes two days just to prepare the ingredients and then another 10 to 14 days for fermentation. “There are so many great flavors in that liquid and natural probiotics developing all the time in the liquid,” explains director of operations Justine Hah.

One of the most popular drinks is the Mary Kim ($13), a Bloody Mary with kimchi, which is pretty common in more modern Korean restaurants, says Hah. “The spice level and the boldness of the classic red kimchi flavor match very well with the horseradish and lemon and Worcestershire Sauce of the Bloody Mary.”

And it’s perfect for cocktails, she says. “It’s about yin and yang. Balance is very important in drinks. So we do a white kimchi with no red pepper at all, and the red kimchi that has ground red pepper.”

For the Mary Kim, she combines the red and white liquids “so we have some tartness from the white and the boldness of the red and put both into the Bloody Mary. And we don’t use Worcestershire Sauce but soy sauce instead.” 

On the skewer for the garnish she uses some of the heads of kimchi – currently asparagus and watermelon radish, since they’re in season – and some crispy spam. “Pork and kimchi is a popular pairing, so you get the porkiness and the spice from the kimchi.” The drink is garnished with a sesame leaf, which looks like a shiso leaf, and Hah says “the herbaceousness from that adds some depth and aromatics to the drink.”

Mokbar also offers picklebacks with soju or bourbon, using the beet kimchi, white kimchi and napa cabbage kimchi, and these are popular chasers, Hah says. The red beet kimchi, she explains, “turns the liquid an amazing garnet color and you get the flavor of beets, but it’s nice and tart from the fermentation process, and that goes great with bourbon.” It’s also a great way to serve up soju, which, she explains, “tends to get lost in spirits.”

Hah and Choi are constantly experimenting with kimchis depending on what’s in season, and are even finding more local Korean farms in New York that are starting to offer Korean produce and beverages.

“Fermentation is Esther’s passion,” Hah explains. We currently have seven different kimchis and change them up depending on season. It’s never ending because of the different seasons and combinations.”


Mary Kim

Recipe courtesy of mokbar

  • 2 oz. Tequila
  • 2.5 oz. Housemade Bloody base (San Marzano tomatoes, fresh horseradish, lime juice, soy sauce, black pepper)
  • 1.5 oz Housemade red and white kimchi liquid
  • Splash lemon juice
  • Skewered housemade kimchi and spam for garnish

Pour tequila into a highball/Collins glass. Add Bloody base, kimchi liquid and lemon juice. Stir and add skewered garnish.

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