Ryan Wainwright Is Getting Creative with Soju at Hanjip

No hard liquor, no problem

Out of all the cocktail programs barman Ryan Wainwright has created for the Bombet Hospitality Group, the libations at Hanjip, the Korean barbecue restaurant in Culver City, would be the easiest to overlook. It makes sense when you realize that the restaurant doesn’t have a bar and it’s only licensed to carry wine and beer.

As an outspoken fan of spirit-forward cocktails, Wainwright never considered making low-ABV faux cocktails with beer, vermouth, or wine—the standard workarounds for beer-and-wine-only restaurants. Negroni with no gin? More like a No-groni. “I can’t bastardize what I didn’t even create; I’d rather have fun with it,” he says. “These are just soju drinks. It should be fun.”

As of right now, the short list of bottled soju cocktails are just that: fun. There’s the Psy-co with lime skin-infused soju, coconut water, coconut pulp and housemade vanilla bean foam and the Facial with genmaicha, soju infused with cold-pressed ginger and aloe vera juice.

So, what’s a barman to do without a fully stocked liquor shelf and the normal tricks up his sleeve? We spoke to him to find out.

1) No bar area = bottled cocktails: Since Wainwright wanted to insure consistency and quality control he decided to bottle his cocktails. “I know what’s in these bottles, and I made these bottles,” he says. He comes in at least once a week to make a fresh stock of cocktails, sometimes 60 bottles a week. “I’m still tweaking proportions. I have an Excel spreadsheet tracking after one day what does it taste like, after two days what does it taste like? I’m trying to map optimum flavors and deterioration of flavors,” he says. When is the bottled cocktail at its peak flavor? On the third day, after the ingredients have had time to marinate for a bit.

2) Bottled yogurt drink without preservatives = yogurt foam: After an intense tasting session of Korean drinks set up by Chef Chris Oh, Wainwright discovered that yogurt was one of the most popular ingredients in Korea’s refreshments. But how to keep yogurt stable in a bottled cocktail without the use of preservatives? For the Facial, he created a whipped yogurt foam separately that the bottled drink is then poured over. “It actually simplistically works out very well. But the yogurt adds a cool twist.”

3) Soju cocktails = focus on flavor first rather than spirit: Wainwright is known for creating cocktails around a spirit, making soju difficult for him to work with. “For this because soju is such an odd creature and something I didn’t really understand, I started with a flavor idea,” he says. The key was to start off with the flavors of aloe vera and yogurt—the two he found were prevalent in Korean drinks—and add ingredients to it. And for the first time in any of his programs he worked with infusions. “Both of these drinks have an infusion aspect I normally don’t do. But without doing that there is a vacancy.” The infusions rounded out the flavors of the cocktails as well as provided an interesting complexity.

For fans of Wainwright’s cocktails, the Hanjip cocktail program would be the equivalent of an experimental album rather than the greatest hits. They’re surprising and not inline with what one has come to expect from the barman. But they do make you realize that maybe soju cocktails aren’t so boring after all.

redarrow Hanjip, 3829 Main St, Culver City, 323-720-8804