Introducing Ki One: Korea’s First-Ever Single Malt Whisky

To accompany its launch, Three Societies Distillery – South Korea’s first single craft malt whisky distillery – has announced the release of Ki One, a premium single malt that is looking to kickstart the country’s whisky-making journey.

As Bryan Do, Three Societies founder and CEO, has explained, “We chose Ki One as our whisky name because it has two meaningful definitions in Korean, beginning, and hope. These two themes perfectly encapsulate our spirit as we are at the beginning of the single malt whisky journey from Korea to the world. We also hope to showcase how the four seasons of our region in Korea leads to the unique maturation periods and distinct flavour of Korean whisky.”

In honour of Korea’s representative animal, the first instalment of this whisky is the “Tiger Edition”. Out of the 1506 bottles of this first limited-edition whisky that the distillery has released, many have already been sold to customers across 5 territories: USA, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Ki One: The Product

Ki One has been aged since July 7 2020 in new American oak casks. The tasting notes include a strong sense of “oakiness with vibes of a bowl of summer fruit salad. The taste has vanilla pods and juicy peaches dancing on your tongue before a big hit of oriental spice. The long lingering spices give way to barley sugar and a forest of oak.” 

Whilst speaking with The Korea Times, Do was quick to point out that the taste of Ki One will continue to develop. He stated: “This is not the finished product at all. It’s just the beginning, something to show that how well whisky can age in Korea. Our taste is good now, but when it matures more, it will be even better.”

South Korea & Whisky

The Asian Pacific whisky market was worth $1.84 billion in 2021 and is forecasted to reach $2.4 billion in 2026. Whilst the incredible expansion of the Asian whisky market is undeniable, it is important not to regard it as a single monolithic entity.

In 2020, whisky imports in South Korea reached their lowest mark in 21 years after consistently declining since 2007. The reason that whisky has failed to make an impression in South Korea is partly because of the popularity of soju, a low-ABV spirit distilled from rice and other grains. This is the country’s alcoholic beverage of choice.

However, Do believes that high and unfair taxes for whisky is the main reason that Korea has not yet domestically produced single malt whisky. He explained, “If you make alcohol here, all other spirits get big discounts if they’re made in Korea, even if the ingredients are imported. But whisky doesn’t get any discounts because, when the law was introduced, it was known as a kind of ‘Western alcohol’ for the rich.”

Opportunity for Growth

Whilst other people might have looked at South Korea’s current whisky trends and thought that the country was a lost cause, Do saw a gap in the market. The CEO and founder of Three Societies teamed up with Andrew Shand, an accomplished distiller from Scotland, to build a distillery on a hillside in Namyagiu. 

Within three years, Do has his eyes set on exporting whisky to Europe, including Scotland and Ireland. He stated, “It will be a very proud day for us when we can re-export to Scotland. And I think we can be competitive in the market because it is ‘Korean.’ Many people are interested in what Korean whisky is like. So I think we will have a fairly good following.”

Notably, Do has to wait around two years before he can export to Europe because whisky needs to be aged more than three years to be classified as whisky on the continent. Meanwhile, in Korea and other countries, one-year maturation is enough to qualify. 

Future Products

Following the “Tiger Edition”, Three Societies will release the “Unicorn” and “Eagle” editions. Respectively, these whiskies will be launched two years and two and a half years after the inaugural launch.

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