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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Grant

Makgeolli: Korean Rice Wine

This Ancient Brew has Found a New Allure in South Korea:

Makgeolli, a cloudy rice wine with a slightly sour/sweet taste has been made by Korean farmers for centuries, has had a resurgence over the past decade. Makgeolli is the oldest alcoholic beverage in Korea and has been brewed since the 1st century.

Industry experts say that the new demand for makgeolli is largely fuelled by young Korean professionals who see the drink, once known mainly as a tipple for Korean farmers, as a sign of cosmopolitan refinement.

Makgeolli, also known as makkolli, is made from fermented rice and nuruk, a dough-like starter. The brewing process can be as complex as that of many craft beers or natural sake.

The Taste:

Makgeolli has a distinctive, perplexing taste that is unique to Makgeolli. Milky, sweet, and fizzy, this Korean rice wine is a drink that baffles the senses.

Makgeolli can have a range of tastes, and indeed your drinking Makgeolli experience will likely go on a novel taste journey through many of them. Sweet, sour, tangy, creamy, bitter, fruity, floral, all topped off with a bit of a chalky dusting. Your first time drinking Makgeolli will have you questioning its cloudy appearance produced by chalk sediment, and have you wonder if indeed there is any alcohol content in it due to the sweetness. The alcohol content can range from 2% to 15%, check the bottle.

Some History:

The most consumed alcoholic drink in South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, makgeolli began to lose popularity in the 1970s with the rise of imported alcoholic beverages. Also, due to the national food shortage, the government banned making makgeolli and soju using rice. Makgeolli was made by mixing 80% wheat flour and 20% corn. When flour was used, the quality of makgeolli deteriorated. As makgeolli was considered cheap and old-fashioned, sellers then focused on selling quantity rather than quality, with many makgeolli companies turning to mass production. In this process, the rice wine is usually brewed with a non-traditionally manufactured fermentation starter instead of the traditional Nuruk. It is also diluted with water.

In the 21st century, makgeolli enjoyed a resurgence in urban areas and among younger generations. The health benefits and low alcohol proof of makgeolli, and a growing interest in cultural traditions in recent decades, have contributed to it's rejuvenation.

While mass-produced Makgeolli can sell for $1 per bottle, the more traditionally produced brands can sell for about $10 to $14 per bottle.

How to Drink:

Makgeolli is usually served chilled, in a bottle or in a pottery bowl with a ladle. Prior to drinking, it is stirred with the ladle, or the bottle is gently flipped upside down several times with the cap on, in order to mix in the settled sediment. It is then ladled or poured into individual small bowls, rather than cups, for drinking. This is because of the tendency of makgeolli to split into a cloudy white fraction that settles to the bottom and a clear, pale yellow liquid that rises to the top.

Where to Buy Outside of Korea:

Visit Hana Makgeolli’s Tasting Room in New York - also learn how to make yourself.

You can follow @gumpykim - who makes Makgeolli at home


Try Makgeolli yourself, you maybe pleasantly surprised.


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