Makgeolli: How did Korean rice wine emerge from the shadow of soju

(CNN) – Kim Kyung-seop remembers going to the traditional bars behind the table with her friends, where they ate as much makgeolli as possible.

“Did you know the saying, ‘men eat alcohol?’ It’s the same. ”

Makgeolli, a traditional rice wine from Korea, was chosen because of its price, not taste.

In 1989, when Kim entered college, half a gallon of makgeolli cost 40 cents. He sat with his friends around a table, pouring makgeolli from a brass pot into each brass bowl, according to tradition.

Kim, currently a lecturer at Global Cyber ​​University in Seoul, has been studying makgeolli hacking technologies for 10 years. However, he remembered his first encounter with a non -alcoholic drinker.

“When we lived with the women, we drank beer. But among the boys, we drank makgeolli.” Makgeolli – with his famous reputation – isn’t fit for female entertainment.

Two years later, in the bars of South Korea’s capital, alcoholism from Kim’s memory has fallen, now in the hands of a younger generation of businessmen and artisans. .

“We’ve worked hard to get rid of the stereotypes that are stuck to the makgeolli,” Kim said.

Kim Min-kyu (not related to Kim Kyung-seop) was one of the actors who led the change. It launched its own makgeolli store Boksoondoga in 2009.

Min -kyu, a devout Christian father, opposed his plan – especially after spending the family’s wealth supporting his five -year -old son’s training as a writer at New York City’s Cooper Union. His father angrily broke the clay pot used to make makgeolli.

Min-kyu is not restrained. He believed in the power of his grandmother’s makgeolli food.

As a child, he would visit his farm in Yangsan, a city in the northeast. He mixes half the rice with his yeast and water. And he listened to the soft rustle of the air as the makgeolli was being cooked. Her fondest memories are of her grandmother donating finished drinking water to neighbors, then they sang and danced.

He assured his family that there would be more work for him. Asking for his education, he worked on branding, customers and the brewery, while his mother smoked makgeolli, making the first bottle of Boksoondoga. Doga means “brewery,” and Boksoon is Kim’s mother’s name.

The timing was easy. Makgeolli came out of a long dark year.

Kim Min-kyu is one of the entertainers of Korea’s new makgeolli image.

Kim Min-kyu is one of the entertainers of Korea’s new makgeolli image.


The story of drinking

Makgeolli is a combination of the Korean words mak (meaning “evil” or “some time ago”) and geolleun (“filter”).

Although the first name appears in “Gwangjaemulbo,” an encyclopedia believed to have been written in the 19th century, opaque bitter drink marked the beginning of the millennium.

According to an early 20th century story, it was eaten in all corners of Korea.

“Makgeolli is Korean culture, it’s the drink of the Korean people,” Kim Kyung-seop said.

One reason for its popularity is its simplicity. It is a combination of steamed rice, yeast and water, left to ferment for a few weeks in a clay pot. Many families in Korea make their own drinks with their own flavors.

Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century destroyed many housing industries. The colonial government eliminated homebrewers as industrial producers. All drunkenness was taxed and licenses were required, even for personal consumption.

Some beverages were widely produced on the market and, in 1934, homebrewing was banned.

World War II and the Korean War left the country devastated. The new government maintained a policy of controlling alcohol production. With the rise of the food market in the 1960s, the use of rice – mainly makgeolli – was banned in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages.

Manufacturers used flour and barley as substitutes and the popularity of makgeolli declined. It was replaced by fresh soju, a pure alcohol made by diluting ethanol. As the economy improved and rice became more abundant than it could be eaten, the ban on rice alcohol was lifted in 1989 and homebrewing was introduced again in 1995. However, , many traditions have been lost.

Pyongyang Pub, a supposedly North Korean pub, has opened its doors in South Korea’s capital – and it has raised some eyebrows.

Bring it back home

Restoring the lost image of makgeolli brewing can be greatly given to pioneering researchers such as Park Rock-dam. Park has traveled in Korea for 30 years collecting food and recycling ancient technologies.

The government has reversed the course of its previous policy, accepting traditional alcohol as a proud legacy – and potentially lucrative – industry.

In 2016, the government allowed small grocery stores to sell their soft drinks by reducing the size of the water tank from 5,000 to 1,000 liters. Over the next year, regular alcoholic beverages were offered for sale online and distributed directly to consumers.

While Covid-19 infection has prevented people from going to bars and restaurants, sales have increased online and off-market. According to a 2021 report published by Korea Agro-fisheries and Food Trade Corporation (aT), a state-owned company that specializes in agricultural products, the makgeolli market has grown by 52.1% and the total alcohol market has declined. and 1.6% in 2020.

Kim Kyung-seop teaches a makgeolli drinking water course.

Kim Kyung-seop teaches a makgeolli drinking water course.

Kim Kyung-seop

In Kim Kyung-seop’s makeup class, half of the students are professionals, most of whom are women in their 30s or older. Ten years ago, almost everyone in the class was over 50 and were looking to make makgeolli as a fun part of their vacation.

Since 2009, the number of makgeolli brewing license holders has increased by 43%, according to National Tax Service data.

Kim says it’s easier to open a makgeolli bar than any other type of alcohol. While the equipment for setting up the beer microbrewery is about 200-300 million won ($ 155,000-233,000), the equipment for the makgeolli factory can be had for 10 million won ($ 7,800), he said. and Kim. In addition, only four 3-hour classes will do anything better than the mainstream market, he added.

Go world

Julia Mellor is an Australian who first came to South Korea to learn English. Then in 2009, he met Makgeolli.

Currently, his business The Sool Company offers makeup courses and consulting for those who want to open their own store, but most of its customers are from foreign countries. He said he had four jobs during the illness.

Its customers are from countries such as US, Singapore and Denmark. Most of them are members of the Korean diaspora. “They look at the Koreans who are happy with him here and they are working hard to bring him back to their country,” he said.

“It’s very different, very exciting. It’s very rare to see something that the people of the world haven’t heard of.”

She organized groups with friends and later taught herself Korean because most of the resources were not available in English.

07 makgeolli korean rice wine

Participants at The Sool Company trial wore their glasses.

The Sool Company

Mellor thinks Makgeolli will appeal to foreigners.

“Homebrew is very easy. You need rice and nuruk (yeast).”

And he announced that makgeolli would take another step.

“This keeps something in place at a loss,” Mellor said.

Kim Min-kyu says her makgeolli will be sold in the US and Austria this year and other Western buyers have come to her. His makgeolli was popular in Japan, where it became popular during the Hallyu era, or the Korean wave in the mid-2000s, when the market for K-dramas and K-pop opened its doors to consumers. other cultures such as kimchi and traditional beverages.

“To foreign consumers, this natural fermentation is considered healthy, natural and clean. And it’s a kind of alcohol they’ve never seen before,” Min-kyu said.

Korean “soft power” has increased outside Asia in recent years. He thinks makgeolli can ride this wave.


Despite the rapid growth of makgeolli, South Korea’s sour drink market was sustained by soju and beer, accounting for more than 80% of sales.

Min-kyu says the biggest challenge facing makgeolli makers is the public perception of older people drinking. Most of his advertising and marketing is focused on changing this knowledge. In one advertisement, the makgeolli was nicely melted into a champagne can with a shaved head and eyebrows raised.

Changing perceptions about foods that combine well with makgeolli is another obstacle.

In Korean culture, alcohol is usually consumed with or without food. For makgeolli, this is jeon, a delicious Korean pancake made by eating meat or vegetables in a delicious baking dish.

“A delicious drink of makgeolli after eating the delicious scallion jeon acts as a palate cleanser that prepares you to fully enjoy a new delicious treat,” says Kim Kyung-seop.

The group is very popular on rainy days. Sales of makgeolli and food for jeon are on the rise on rainy days among major retail chains, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

But premium makgeolli, with its wide range of flavor, effervescence and texture can blend well with any type of food, says Min-kyu.

“I drank it with jajangmyeon (a Chinese-Korean noodle dish) and it went very well with ice cream too. Min-kyu added.

Boksoondoga makgeolli is the main dish served at an unseen gastropub in Seoul’s Hapjeong district. The drink was poured into wine -free glasses. Consumers, mostly young businesses, enjoy drinks while relaxing to hip-hop music. In a leather -sealed menu, beef tartare is served with a variety of other premium makgeolli ingredients.

At the tables, more women filled the seats than men. After each pouring, the bartender explains the flavors and the reason. They smiled. They lift the glass to their lips, listening intently to each secret message in the drink.

Jihye Yoon and Minji Song gave the show

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