Life is too interesting to enjoy soberly! South Korea has never backed off in expressing its feisty taste in cuisine. Likewise, it never shies away from conveying its undying affection for alcohol. Be it BTS Jungkook’s favorite banana milk or crisp shots of Soju to seize the tedious day. The partnership of foods with drinks has always been shipped insanely in Korea.
Alongwith the wild rise of South Korean culture, their perspective toward drinks has also influenced our thoughts in dynamic ways. What’s more interesting is, how even after chugging bottles of intoxication Koreans still somehow manage to look like Adonis and Aphrodite.
Well, I know you are also as curious as me to decode their little secret but today let’s talk about something that gives the Koreans strength and makes them euphoric to live in their carping society.
Among Bokbunja (복분자), Maesilcha (매실차), Bacchus (박카스), and Soju bombs (폭탄주) one Korean drink that never goes out of sight and mind is Makgeolli. As bittersweet as the flavor taste, it always has an unforgettable story to tell.
Makgeolli 막걸리: A POT FULL OF CLOUDS
Makgeolli is traditional rice wine hailing the Korean peninsula for centuries. It is mainly made up of rice using nuruk. Nuruk is a dry cereal Korean fermentation starter used to ferment and mature the drink. It promotes mold growth, producing hydrolyzable enzymes which decompose the cereal grain starches into sugar. This sugar is then consumed by yeast to churn out alcohol by fermentation.
Different kinds of nuruk bring different flavors to makgeolli. The most common nuruk ingredients are rice, wheat, barley, and mung beans. Sometimes additional flavors are also incorporated in brewing to enhance the distinct flavor of makgeolli. Maize, chestnuts, fruits like strawberries and bananas, herbs, flowers, and ginseng are some of the most commercialized flavors.
The drink is brewed in a permeable clay crock in which Kimchi and other fermented foods are made. The traditional makgeolli is unpasteurized and it keeps aging even after the completion of packaging. Nowadays for the makgeolli to thrive in different time zones, mass production is being pasteurized to increase the shelf life of the liquor before export.
This traditional rice wine brewing involves two processes; seed mash and main fermentation.
Seed Mash is the extraction of the active yeast and enzymes from the nuruk starter which influences the taste and aroma of the drink derived from the nutrients of rice and amino acids.
The main fermentation lasts for about a week before it finally reaches the stage to drink.
Makgeolli is best when consumed fresh. A week or two after brewing is considered the perfect time to indulge your senses in this bittersweet taste. In its fresh state makgeolli has a milder viscosity that tastes slightly creamy sweet, tangy, bitter, and astringent. The best pals of this drink are fried buchimgae, Korean pancakes; pajeon, and bindae-tteok.
The Koreans often like to consume makgeolli during rain with pajeon as the pitter-patter sound of the rain is often associated with the sizzling of the pajeon getting fried just like ‘garam garam pakoras’ during baarish for Indians.
This seasonal pajeon-makgeolli duo also carries the stories of how farmers during the summer rain could not do field work and open a pot of makgeolli to drink along with pajeon to soothe their starvings. Over time it became a tradition and is passed down to generations till now.
Makgeolli has been brewed since the three kingdoms era and often great rulers, authors, poets, and many renowned primeval artists have time and again mentioned this opaque drink name in their creations. In ancient times during the Goryeo dynasty makgeolli was termed ihwa-ju;이화주. The term ihwa-ju means pear blossom alcohol as the wine gets prepared when the pear trees blossom. This pear blossom time in traditional Korea often celebrated special ceremonies with night-long drinking and dancing.
Makgeolli is truly known as the farmer’s drink or farmer’s wine. It is brewed in homes for centuries before the colonial government start licensing the manufacturing and tax insertion even for self-consumption and banned home production by 1934.
1960’s most popularly consumed drink in South Korea lost its charm during the 1970s as companies started focusing on mass production over quality and the government banned the usage of rice in manufacturing makgeolli due to food shortage. Considering it as cheap and old-fashioned, companies then started producing makgeolli with wheat flour and corn which made the sweet elixir lose its quality slowly.
In the modern times of the 21st century, Makgeolli revived in urban areas, especially among younger generations. The incredible health benefits of Takju;탁주 and being low in alcohol content earned this farmer’s drink (nongju;농주) extra points among the rise of the traditional cultures in recent times.
The product still continues to be inexpensive and is often fused with fruits like mango and pineapple for fruity cocktails, ice, or with saida (the Korean lemon-lime flavored beverage) to make maksa; a type of cocktail and/or with honey to make kkul makgeolli. However expensive makgeolli is also being produced nowadays using traditional nuruk recipes free from artificial additives for people to indulge their taste in the true traditional wine.
Makkori (Japanese name for makgeolli) is usually served chilled, in a pottery bowl with a spoon (ladle), or in recent times in a bottle. It is thoroughly mixed and shaken due to its tendency to accumulate sediments in the bottom leaving a pale liquid at the top.
The appearance of the drink is opaque or cloudy white which actually coined several names for this drink like takju; meaning opaque wine. Fight milk, Korean Buckfast, makcohol (makgeolli + alcohol), cheongju;청주(clear wine), markelixir (makgeolli + elixir), and makkori are the most common commercialized names.
The root name makgeolli (막걸리) is formed with two words mak 막; reckless, rough, or careless and goreu 거르; to strain or filter added with the suffix ‘i;이.
Makgeolli wine is dense in nutrients as an ample amount of microorganisms grow during the fermentation process. It is a probiotic product that contains high levels of lactic acid bacteria along with vitamins, amino acids, and fiber. There are over 10 amino acids, inositol, vitamin B, and choline that makes this drink a sought-after tonic to promote metabolism, relieve fatigue, and even improve your complexion.
The credit for bringing back age-old techniques to brew this ancient refresher in traditional ways and to beat out the mass production of cheap quality makgeolli goes to researchers like Park Rock Dam. He set out on his journey across Korea to collect recipes and find out new techniques to recreate traditional brewing methods.
The packaging of the product also carries significance as over the line of a couple of months it changes itself into rice vinegar.
Since makgeolli possess so many surprising health benefits and it’s low in ABV, people prefer to drink it in a bowl because intaking one or two bowls extra always multiplies the pleasing feelings. The best thing about this pot full of clouds is you can make it in your home all by yourself.