Makgeolli: godfather of Korean alcoholic drinks

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Makgeolli: godfather of Korean alcoholic drinks

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The magkeolli-making process at a plant run by the Seoul Rice Wine Manufacturing Association in Guro, southwest Seoul. By Jeon Min-kyu

Makgeolli dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) when it was called lee wha, or pear blossom, wine because the drink was made when the pear blossom bloomed.

But makgeolli and lee wha wine aren’t the same, according to Shin at Kook Soon Dang.

“Both are fermented rice wine, but lee wha wine was made from the very best rice for the nobility, while makgeolli was made with not only rice, but also other grains such as wheat and barley, and it was drunk by commoners,” Shin explained.

“But since makgeolli was the first wine made by our ancestors, it is fair to say it is the representative traditional wine of Korea. Other Korean rice wines derive from makgeolli,” he added.

In fact, makgeolli was the most popular alcoholic beverage in Korea until the 1960s. It accounted for about 70 percent of domestic alcohol consumption. At that time, Korea was still an agrarian society and most of the population was involved in farming. Nongju, another term for makgeolli, means “farmer liquor.”

“But it wasn’t just a drink for farmers,” said Yu Tae-jong, a professor of food engineering at Korea University.

“Makgeolli was the drink of choice for most commoners because it was easily available,” he said.

There are two parts to making makgeolli: making rice malt, or nuruk, and brewing with steamed rice.

Nuruk is an essential ingredient as it facilitates the fermentation of rice starch into sugar. It is made by placing crushed rice in a wooden box for about a week until it gets moldy.

The moldy nuruk is then added to a mixture of boiled rice and water to produce a yet-undiluted solution of makgeolli, which will be later mixed with a fixed quantity of water to get an alcohol content of 6 to 7 percent.



By Park Sun-young [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]

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