How To Plan Your Next Cocktail Menu at H Mart

Turns out the iconic Korean grocery store is filled with boozy inspiration.

H Mart cocktail ingredients
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
John deBary is a cocktail expert and author, founder of Proteau, and co-founder of Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation. Youngmi Mayer is a stand-up comedian and co-host of the Feeling Asian podcast. The duo are best friends, who occasionally take trips to H Mart together.

One of our favorite things to do as a platonic couple is to go to H Mart, the iconic Korean grocery store, roam the aisles, and talk shit. On a recent morning, we met up on the subway platform, on a mission to figure out our weekend cocktail plans using ingredients we found there. 

Youngmi Mayer: Wait, why are we getting out here? Which H Mart are we going to?

John deBary: The one on Third Avenue?? I thought it would be closer. 

YM: John, last time we went to H Mart, you confidently led us to the train headed to Brooklyn and I kept asking why we were going to Brooklyn, and you were like TRUST ME. And then we had to get off and switch directions.

JdB: I’ve lived in New York for 20 years but whatever, I haven’t been to this H Mart yet so I just want to see how it’s different. Didn’t it used to be a Japanese grocery store?

YM: No, I think it was a M2M, which is a Korean grocery store but, like, less Korean-y than H Mart.

JdB: Ok well there goes my bit about decolonizing Asian grocery stores. Anyway, here we are. I want to cover all the bases and make one non-alcoholic drink and one drink with alcohol. Where should we go first? 

YM: Well I know where the alcohol is, it’s by the register so we should go in through the back door which is kinda our thing.

JdB: Wait, what’s this stuff in the freezer... are these pork noodles? Can we make drinks from anything here??

YM: NO JOHN FOCUS. Oh my god, my favorite thing is when there’s a cartoon mascot of what the food is made of on the package. Like this one is pork sausages so it’s a pig holding a tray of its own meat. And this one is tteokbokki and it’s a cartoon tteokbokki who’s holding its baby with a fork! Eat my baby! 

JdB: And are we supposed to think that this one is made of old Korean women, because there’s a cartoon old Korean woman on the front.

YM: It’s made of ajuma meat.

JdB: This one is the Youngmi brand.

YM: Why because there’s an Asian woman on it?

JdB: No because she’s crying for some reason, but also … a little horny looking?

YM: Crying (and horny) in H Mart. 

JdB: Ok, enough with the meat detour….Ok, here’s the alcohol. We’ve got makkekoli, beer, non-alcoholic chu-hi, which is baffling to me—how is that not just soda? Hey, do you like hard seltzer? 

YM: John, I’m a single mom. Of course I like hard seltzer. 

JdB: I’d rather drink legit sugary soda than non-alcoholic chu-hi. Wait Youngmi, what is that? 

YM: Bong Bong! It’s my favorite Korean soft drink. It’s grape juice that has whole skinless and seedless concord grapes inside. I think they add a little artificial flavoring but artificial grape flavor in Asia is so good compared to the states. I’m going to grab one and try to make a cocktail from it. Oh god, also here is my least favorite soft drink, McCol!! It’s so disgusting, it’s half-coke and half-barley tea and the combo literally tastes like a wet ashtray. 

JdB: I love disgusting drinks. Give me two. This burdock tea I’ve had before, it’s so good. What do you think would be good with it? 

YM: Some Korean-ass pears. Let’s go get them, they’re in the front.

JdB: Oh my god, look at these Strawberry Sparkling Wine Kit-Kats...these line extensions are out of control. Do you even think these taste good? 

YM: NO JOHN FOCUS! Oh wait.. What? I feel like they’re just messing with us at this point. Next is going to be McCol Kit-Kats... John, stop talking. That guy is hot. Did you see him?? I’m going to follow him. 

JdB: His pants are both baggy and too short. How is that appealing? 

YM: He’s not going to need pants for what I’m wanting to do with him. 

JdB: Do you think he comes here to pick up Korean women? 

YM: Oh at H Mart? Maybe? But he’s not white. Reader, he’s not white. So I’m ok with that.

JdB: Ok have fun...Meet me at the pears. 

YM: Ok, fine, nevermind. I will go with you.

JdB: These pears are wildly luxurious. $13 for three. 

YM: Oh those are from where I’m from!

JdB: Yes, I know they are from Korea.

YM: Ha Ha. They’re from Cheonan. So you’re going to make a drink with the Korean pears and the burdock tea?? 

JdB: Yeah plus this “Haitai” pear soda I got in the soda aisle and some black pepper and gochugaru.

YM: YUM. Oh my god John do you realize your drink is basically McCol if it was good?

JdB: Every hungover Korean 70-year-old man will either love or hate me for this. 

YM: So, I am not a bartender but I really want to make an alcoholic Bong Bong. I found this sweetened drinking vinegar that is grape flavored called Petitzel, it basically tastes like a Bong Bong concentrate. So I think I’m going to add that to some vodka and top it with seltzer and sliced grapes. It should end up being sweet, sour, and very grapey. 

JdB: Yeah that sounds great. Basic mom hard seltzer, but make it fashion.

McCol, 2.0


  • 2 ounces Haitai Pear Drink
  • 2 ounces burdock tea
  • 6 turns Black pepper
  • ⅛ of a Korean pear chopped into 1 inch chunks
  • ¾ ounce lemon

Shake and strain into a gochugaru-rimmed cocktail coupe and garnish with pear slices.

MILB (Mom I’d Like To Bong)


  • 2 ounces vodka 
  • 1 ounce Petitzel Grape Drinking Vinegar
  • 2 ounce Bong Bong
  • 3 ounces seltzer (alcoholic seltzer if you’re a single mom)

Combine vodka, grape vinegar, and Bong Bong in a tall glass with ice. Stir to combine. Top with seltzer. Garnish with sliced grapes on a pick.

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