SEOUL'S COCKTAIL SCENE isn’t as famous as Tokyo’s or Hong Kong’s, but it has all the ingredients to become the next big thing: abundant nightlife, a trend-hungry population, and (for better or worse) the strongest drinking culture in all of Asia — possibly, in the world. Ironically, their cocktail scene remains somewhat hidden due to another aspect of South Korean culture: a competitive drive that also abhors bragging. That may be why Charles H. head bartender Keith Motsi credits both his predecessors and his staff for the bar’s continuing excellence. “It's just, how can we get better and better? We don't change the whole thing. It’s building on what was built,” he says. Under his tenure, Charles H. is #13 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list — the highest position for any Korean bar.
The recipe’s Bokbunja wine and Fino sherry finish dry, maintaining the much-needed balance of this highly modified gin sour.
His drink, the Raspberry Calling, builds on his favorite cocktail, the London Calling, created in 2002 by Chris Jepson at Milk & Honey’s London location. Motsi’s complex version adds Bokbunja — a fruit wine made from Korean black raspberries. The recipe’s Bokbunja wine and Fino sherry finish dry, maintaining the much-needed balance of this highly modified gin sour.
Motsi, who was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in London, has the unique perspective of an outsider with an explorer’s knowledge of local ingredients and spirits. He visited Seoul often while he was head bartender at Equis, located inside the Four Seasons Beijing. “Once I was here, if I wanted to learn something, I could go and visit people making kimchi, meet people brewing makgeolli.” As for researching Korea’s many wines and spirits: “You get [to] drink a lot,” he says. “You get to know it by consuming so much of it.”
Charles H. is named for Charles H. Baker, an American travel writer who shared drinks with the greatest imbibers of his time, like William Faulkner, Errol Flynn, and Ernest Hemingway. “He was doing what [Anthony] Bourdain was doing. He wasn't a chef. He wasn't a bartender. He was first and foremost generally a journalist,” Motsi says. “He went and experienced places and wrote about them.” Motsi and his team try to fully embody that spirit. Their cocktail menu is inspired by Baker’s adventures and his delightfully witty rules for drinking: “A warm cocktail is like half-way objects in life — neither this nor that, and often a reflection on the judgment and discretion of those present.” The Raspberry Calling is neither this nor that — it’s both. And it bears the marks of its creator’s travels and the pioneers who walked in these places before him.
- 45 ml London dry gin
- 15 ml Bokbunja (Korean raspberry wine)
- 10 ml Fino sherry
- 5 ml cassis
- 2 dashes absinthe
- 15 ml fresh lemon juice
- 15 ml runny honey
- 5 ml egg white
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (garnish)
- Shake all ingredients and double strain into a coupe glass.
- Garnish with bitters.
Jessica Suarez Writer
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.