How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

If you’ve ever dreamed of making saké at home but been intimidated by the steps, equipment and precision required, then Makgeolli recipe is for you.

This Korean unfiltered rice alcohol is creamy and sweet, much like nigori saké. It’s fermented, full of healthy bacteria and tastes a little like yogurt, despite being dairy-free. It’s good for simple sipping and can even replace saké in recipes – think nasu dengaku miso eggplant and restaurant Nobu‘s famous black cod. Plus, thanks to its natural bubbles, mixologists are using it as a sparkling wine substitution in their cocktail creations; two-Michelin-Star restaurant Jungsik in New York mixes it with soju and Korean raspberry fruit wine as a drink pairing for the restaurant’s lauded tasting menu.

The main difference between saké and Makgeolli are the yeasts and the fermentation time. Makgeolli recipe is traditionally made with nu ruk, a wheat yeast, while saké uses koji and specific strains of sake yeast. By using koji and following the instructions for Makgeolli, however, you can make a Makgeolli with a saké flavour. The yeasts can all be ordered online (or made at home). Most Makgeolli recipes also call for a pinch of instant yeast, which is available at the grocery store, to kick-start fermentation.

If you strain out the cooked rice and koji – the lees – after fermentation, you can season them with salt or soy sauce and use them in place of miso (think black cod again) or as a breading for fish or chicken. With saké, these lees are called kazu-saké. You can also dehydrate or freeze the lees for later use.

Once fermented, you can dilute this Korean moonshine with water to a lower alcohol level if desired, or sweeten to taste with honey.

How to Make Makgeolli Rice Wine

How to make makgeolli

Makgeolli Recipe: Ingredients and Step-by-Step Preparation

1) Rinse the rice at least five times, or place in a colander under running water, moving the grains around until the water runs clear, about 2 minutes. Soak the rice in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes, then bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to its lowest point and simmer 3 minutes more. Remove pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 30 minutes.

2) Sanitize 2 cloths large enough to fit over the top of 2 large bowls (you can boil them, use sterilizing solution, or wet them and microwave them for 2 minutes). When cool, use a cloth to wipe a spatula, a small bowl, a large bowl, a spoon and your hands with about 1 cup of vodka or with sterilizing solution, trying not to waste too much vodka, clearly. Ring out the cloths.

3) If your koji is not in powdered form, grind 1 cup of it and measure 100 g. Combine the koji in the small bowl with the instant yeast and enough water to make a paste. Add 1 l of water and half the cooked rice to each large bowl. Re-sterilize your hands with vodka and when the rice is cool enough, break up any clumps.

4) Add the koji and mix together. Wipe the rim of the bowls with a cloth or paper towel soaked in alcohol and cover the bowls with the sterilized cloths. Hold the cloths in place with elastic bands, string or cord. Place the bowls in a dark area between 20-25˚C. Stir the liquid every morning and night with a sterilized spoon. Leave for 3-5 days. Add more water if drying out.

5) Over the course of the fermentation period, rice particles will start floating up and down in the liquid and you’ll hear activity from the gases. The Makgeolli is ready when most of the grains have fallen to the bottom of the bowls and only a few grains remain on top. The liquid should no longer be bubbling away. If the room is hotter than 25˚C, fermentation might only require 2-3 days.

6) Decant the liquid by pouring through sterilized cheesecloth into sterilized glass bottles, plastic bottles or mason jars. If desired, dilute with water to reduce the alcohol level or thin. Add honey to taste (it might be sweet enough already). Don’t tighten the lids too much, as some of the unpasteurized lees are still present and gases may build up. If using plastic lids, poke holes in them to release gases. You can also siphon the liquid from the lees before bottling, or bring it to 70˚C to pasteurize it if you wish the fermentation to stop completely and the Makgeolli to be shelf stable. Store in the fridge for a few days to mellow before drinking.

How to make Makgeolli recipe at home: check out the step-by-step recipe for a creamy and traditional Korean rice wine.

How to make makgeolli

serves for

total time

ingredients

Preparation

To make Makgeolli recipe at home start rinsing the rice at least five times, or place in a colander under running water, moving the grains around until the water runs clear, about 2 minutes.

Soak the rice in 6 cups of water for 30 minutes, then bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 12 minutes. Reduce the heat to its lowest point and simmer 3 minutes more.

Remove pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 30 minutes.

Sanitize 2 cloths large enough to fit over the top of 2 large bowls (you can boil them, use sterilizing solution, or wet them and microwave them for 2 minutes).

When cool, use a cloth to wipe a spatula, a small bowl, a large bowl, a spoon and your hands with about 1 cup of vodka or with sterilizing solution, trying not to waste too much vodka, clearly.

Ring out the cloths.

If your koji is not in powdered form, grind 1 cup of it and measure 100 g.

Combine the koji in the small bowl with the instant yeast and enough water to make a paste.

Add 1l of water and half the cooked rice to each large bowl. Re-sterilize your hands with vodka and when the rice is cool enough, break up any clumps.

Add the koji and mix together. Wipe the rim of the bowls with a cloth or paper towel soaked in alcohol and cover the bowls with the sterilized cloths.

Hold the cloths in place with elastic bands, string or cord. Place the bowls in a dark area between 20-25˚C. Stir the liquid every morning and night with a sterilized spoon.

Leave for 3-5 days.

Add more water if drying out.

Over the course of the fermentation period, rice particles will start floating up and down in the liquid and you’ll hear activity from the gases. The Makgeolli is ready when most of the grains have fallen to the bottom of the bowls and only a few grains remain on top. The liquid should no longer be bubbling away. If the room is hotter than 25˚C, fermentation might only require 2-3 days. Decant the liquid by pouring through sterilized cheesecloth into sterilized glass bottles, plastic bottles or mason jars. If desired, dilute with water to reduce the alcohol level or thin. Add honey to taste (it might be sweet enough already). Don’t tighten the lids too much, as some of the unpasteurized lees are still present and gases may build up. If using plastic lids, poke holes in them to release gases. You can also siphon the liquid from the lees before bottling, or bring it to 70˚C to pasteurize it if you wish the fermentation to stop completely and the Makgeolli to be shelf stable. Store in the fridge for a few days to mellow before drinking.

Written by Chris Buchanan

Introduction

Chris has been sharing his incredible libations with us for a while, and when we tasted this traditional Korean fermentation, we knew we had to get it down on paper so that more people could make this for themselves! Chris was nice enough to write up his process for this article so that everyone can make this fun and delicious fermentation! You can use white rice, or a wide variety of different rices to accomplish this, and your percent alcohol can be whatever you want it to be! It’s a cool mix of making sake and making sour beer, and not only is it fun, it’s absolutely delicious! We’ll let Chris take it from here!

Makgeolli Overview

Creamy, spritzy, and refreshingly tart; this is what makgeolli should taste like. Unlike those green bottles found in your local Asian grocery store, makgeolli is a lively and enjoyable drink. It’s also simple to make at home with 3 simple ingredients: water, rice, and nuruk (sold as enzyme powder). You’re familiar with the first two no doubt, so let’s dive into nuruk first.

Nuruk has been a traditional part of Korean alcohol production for centuries. Nuruk is a pre-fermented starter culture that contains a hodgepodge of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), brewer’s yeast, and koji. Like sake, the koji in nuruk makes the starches in rice grains available for fermentation. The brewer’s yeast and LAB transform the rice sugars into the tart, alcoholic miracle that is makgeolli.

Short grain rice’s starch content is most favorable to the fermentation process. Rice’s starches are unavailable to microorganisms’ enzymes in its dried state so its starches need to be gelatinized before koji’s enzymes can do their work. The traditional method is to steam the rice first and then dehydrate it for a couple hours to remove excess water. If you’re a traditionalist, give it a shot. However, modern conveniences like rice cookers and pressure cookers can expediate the process.

Water considerations are generally minimal. If your water tastes good, it will most likely do the job. Makgeolli fermentation is a biological process, so water high in chlorine or chloramine is unfavorable and should be treated with your preferred method.

Makgeolli Process

This process works best for me. Follow it exactly or alter the general process for your brewery; makgeolli is rather forgiving. This will yield about ½ a gallon.

Rinse your rice several times to remove excess starch and to clean off the grains. Cook your rice in a rice cooker or pressure cooker. Using a 1-1 ratio of rice to water by weight gelatinizes my rice without adding excess water. I use 1 kilogram of rice and 1 kilogram of filtered water. Once cooked, mix the rice with another kilogram of cold water. Cold water cools down the rice to friendly pitching temperatures quickly. You want your rice at around room temperature before mixing in the nuruk.

Transfer the rice to your fermentation vessel. Add 100 grams of nuruk to the room temperature rice for a ratio of 1:10 nuruk to rice. Then mix the rice and nuruk by hand to distribute the nuruk throughout. Nuruk comes out in uneven chunks and will likely remain chunky post mixing. This is normal; however, if you don’t like this you can mash the nuruk into powder prior to mixing.

Mix your rice/nuruk mixture a couple times daily during the first 2 days of fermentation. This helps introduce oxygen and prevents a layer of white koji from developing on the top. This layer is harmless, but you may find it unappealing. Your rice will go from solid to mostly liquid in these 2 days. You can attach an airlock from day one, but I just cover the top with aluminum foil to make mixing easier. Once it’s liquified, I attach a lid and airlock then leave it alone until completion.

Ferment at room temperature. Higher temperatures can lead to off flavors. It takes two weeks for mine to ferment out. Makgeolli is done when it separates into three distinct layers. The top layer will be a yellowish liquid, the middle a creamier liquid, and the bottom rice solids and nuruk leftovers.

Finally, roughly filter your makgeolli. Strain out the bulk of the rice solids and all the nuruk. Filtering takes some effort; here are two strategies. For both strategies, mix up the layers of your makgeolli and use a sanitized container to capture the liquid. If using a mesh bag, you can pour in all the makgeolli at once. Allow to drain. Twist and squeeze the bag to encourage the liquid to come out but be careful not to squeeze out a lot of solids or nuruk. Alternatively, use strainers, starting with a less fine strainer like a pasta strainer. Mesh strainers will clog if used first. Then, ladle your makgeolli over the strainer in small batches. Gently press and move around the mixture to encourage the liquid out. Repeat with a mesh strainer afterwards to filter more finely.

Makgeolli begins with 10-16% abv. It’s often diluted by 3-1 or 2-1 water to makgeolli. However, I like mine richer and dilute 1-1 or even .5-1 water to makgeolli. You can skip dilution altogether and mix to taste in the glass.

Packaging and Consumption

Fresh makgeolli will continue to ferment post packaging. Keep packaged makgeolli in the fridge to slow it down. Priming sugar is unnecessary but can be used. Plastic bottles are good for packaging so that you can feel the pressure build up. I use a 64-oz growler for mine, burping the lid a couple time during the first few days to relieve build up. Refrigerated makgeolli can last a couple months. Flavor will change over time. Long term storage will result in increased tartness and may become unpalatable.

Mix your makgeolli prior to serving to integrate the solids and liquid that settle out. Drink makgeolli over ice for a summer heat-beating treat. Mix it with carbonated water for additional spritz or combine with lemon-lime soda for citrus and spritz. Mix in fruit juice for dandy flavor combinations. Pour from a copper kettle into a bowl for a more traditional approach. Regardless, share and enjoy. Geonbae!

So now that you have a step by step, try it yourself! It’s easy, as you can see, and is ideal for summer! Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with all of our fun fermentations, events, all things BrewChatter! Check us out on BrewChatter TV on YouTube to see fun overviews of brewing process, interviews and virtual tours of some of our favorite breweries and distilleries! If you haven’t already, join our newsletter to get specials and updates direct to your inbox!

Well obviously one of the best ways to learn to appriciate this drink is to learn how to make it. At its root it is really simple to make but like any great drink professional brewers have found ways to extract the very best flavors from the rice. You can learn here how to make a simple homemade makgeolli and how the pros use their creativity and resources to mold these amazing drinks.

* I still haven’t made my own Makgeolli, but Greg Boone has. Check out his blog! http://www.harmsboone.org/homebrewers-guide-makgeolli

A makgeolli producer, whose family has been producing makgeolli for five generations.

We took our first sip of makgeolli back in late September on the first night of our farming adventure with Wooriwa, pouring from enormous drums like the kind my Grandpa once used to fill up the pontoon with gas at the cabin. Since then, we have become enamored with the beverage, and perplexed by its composition. About a month ago we had the pleasure of learning how the beverage is brewed by the people who knew it best: fifth generation professionals.

Foreigners often call makgeolli a rice wine. In fact, makgeolli is not wine at all, as numerous food bloggers around Seoul have pointed out. It is not made like wine, and it does not look or taste like wine. Some may argue over what the proper genre makgeolli belongs in, but regardless of what it should be, makgeolli is delicious, and a must taste for all visitors to the Land of the Morning Calm. With its white color, don’t make the mistake a friend did on his first week in Korea and douse your cerial in the opaque white substance. It may look vaguely like milk, but it tastes nothing like it. The milky-hued, slightly sweet beverage is a perfect addition to any meal of pajeon and bossam, or just to sip through an outdoor concert in Hongdae. It is traditionally sipped from bronze bowls, and served from a kettle to match. Like the drink itself, the brewing process is at once straightforward and mysterious.

Mashing up the nuruk Korean style: with our hands.

The first step is to acquire a lot of rice. The main ingredient by far, there is a special variety of rice that produces the best makgeolli, but in a pinch a long grain rice you can buy at the grocery store should get the job done. When we brewed our makgeolli the exact proportions were unclear because we were brewing a lot of makgeolli as a large group, but the quantity was more than you could make in a rice cooker at home. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says 4 parts. Before you start the cooker, soak the rice in water (10 parts) for about an hour, then stop the cooking process before it’s cooked all the way. Let the rice cool down and then taste it. After your taste test is over, spread the rice out on your counter top. You may want to put down a sushi mat, or something else that will keep the rice from sticking to the counter.

After rice the second most important ingredient in this process is called nuruk. It was described to us as whole wheat yeast cake, but that’s not particularly helpful, and we suspected there was more to it than that. According to TheFAO, Nuruk is “wheat,rice, barley (whole grain, grits or flour)” with the fermenting microorganisms “Aspergillus, Rhizopus, [and] yeasts” packed together into a large cake, and then incubated for about three weeks, dried for two, and aged for about two months. We had seen these nuruk cakes around grocery stores and markets in town, but never really knew what they were. To the untrained eye, they look almost like a strangely shaped bird’s nest. To make makgeolli, the nuruk (one part) is added to mineral water and broken into tiny pieces with the hands until it is a muddy color and consistency. Once the mixture is at a proper consistence, add in the rice, and mix it in thoroughly.

Almost done with the process, the mix up nuruk, water, and rice is transferred from the bowl into the container it will ferment in for four days.

Korean cooking values working with your hands, and a lot of things that people elsewhere would use tools for, Koreans do with their hands. When making makgeolli, even though it would probably be easier to do this mixing with a large spoon, or a pair of cooking chopsticks, or even maybe a blender to break up those giant chunks of nuruk, you should use your hands. When all the mixing is done, jar it. We suspect traditional Koreans did not use plastic jars, but if you don’t have a kimchi pot laying around, it’ll do in a pinch. Like beer, the longer it sits, the more alcoholic it gets; though, the FAO shows the alcohol content plateaus around 16% after 4 days. We were told to first cover it with a paper towel so that the drink could breathe—the more air those yeasts get the harder they work—and then after two days cover it and let it ferment covered for two more days. Stir the whole mixture twice per day, again to keep the yeast working hard. After four days your makgeolli is ready to drink.

The magkeolli stays busy while it ferments in its shady lair (the closet for the air conditioner). The yeast keeps it bubbling for days, eating up sugars and giving us alcohol.

After we uncovered it and took our first sips, we were a bit shocked at the sourness of the makgeolli, as were many of the people with whom we brewed. Our friends who brew beer here, and a Twitter follower of mine suggested we add sugar to the mix to both cut the edge out of the drink, up the alcohol content, and add a little more carbonation, and this seemed to do the trick. The drink was a bit strong as alcohol goes, but it can easily be watered down to taste. Friends who tried it said it tasted like makgeolli. Mission accomplished.

To brew your own:

  • 1 nuruk cake, powdered (see here for how to make a nuruk cake)
  • 10 parts water
  • 4 parts rice
  1. Soak rice in tepid water for 1 hour
  2. Cook the rice until it is about 80% cooked.
  3. Allow the rice to cool
  4. While rice is cooling break nuruk cake until small pieces and mix into water until it turns a mud-like color.
  5. mix in rice
  6. transfer mixture to an earthen jar (if unavailable a plastic jar will do just as well)
  7. cover jar with a paper towel, or light cloth and allow it to ferment for two days
  8. cover jar with lid and allow to ferment another two days
  9. stir the makgeolli twice per day throughout the whole fermentation process.
  • Add one tablespoon of sugar per liter of makgeolli to each bottle
  • Filter makgeolli mixture through a cheesecloth and pour through a funnel into each bottle
  • seal bottles if possible, and refrigerate until ready to drink
  • To be traditional, transfer your makgeolli into a kettle, and pour into a small, bronze bowl
  • Add water to taste

How to make makgeolli

Daehan Flour Mills is planning to release Pyomun Makgeolli on April 4. The flour producer gained popularity after its collaboration with beer, cosmetic and clothing brands. [GOMPYO]

Due to the growing popularity of makgeolli among the young, companies are tweaking the drink to appeal to these customers.

The size of Korea’s makgeolli market, which was some 300 billion won ($265 million) between 2012 to 2016, grew to some 450 billion won last year, according to the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp. (aT).

Of the growth, makgeolli consumption among the young is most notable.

Based on sales by age group, the portion of makgeolli sales to people in their 20s rose from 3.5 percent in 2018 to 6.3 percent this year, according to CU. Makgeolli sales to people in their 30s increased from 5.4 percent in 2018 to 9.3 percent this year.

With younger drinkers emerging as important customers, makgeolli manufacturers are giving the traditional drink a makeover by lowering alcohol content and releasing products with trendy twists.

CU released a new makgeolli on Friday, naming the product Tes Hyeong Makgeolli. “Tes hyeong” is from Korean trot singer Na Hoon-a’s song, “Tes Hyeong,” in which the singer asks questions such as, “Why is the world like this?” and “Why is life so hard?” to the Greek philosopher Socrates. The song became a huge meme in Korea after Na’s online concert aired during the Chuseok holiday in 2020.

Daehan Flour Mills is planning to release Pyomun Makgeolli on April 4. Pyomun is a wordplay on the company’s wheat flour brand Gompyo. When the Korean word for gompyo is turned upside down, the letters look like pyomun. The company has grasped attention of the young due to the offbeat but funny collaborations with beer, clothing and makeup companies.

“We came up with the makgeolli name ‘Pyomun’ with intentions to overturn the conventional image of Korean traditional liquor,” said a spokesperson for Daehan Flour Mills.

Seoul Takju, the Korea’s largest makgeolli manufacturer, famous for the Jangsoo Makgeolli brand, changed the traditional green colored bottle to a transparent one. The company also added ‘shipjangsaeng,’ a Korean term referring to the ten symbols of longevity, on the makgeolli label as a fun abbreviation for longevity of ten days to emphasize makgeolli’s short 10-day shelf life.

With its growing popularity, makgeolli is gaining a presence in luxury hotels as well. The L’escape Hotel’s new exclusive room package offers a unique Korean liquor experience, overturning the stereotypical association of hotels and wine. Guests can enjoy Boksoondoga Son Makgeolli with Korean-style fried chicken and makgeolli pairings with the Palais de Chine menus in their hotel rooms.

Liquor brands are also making their drinks easily accessible to its customers, delivering makgeolli to people’s doorsteps.

Baesangmyun Brewery, famous for its Slow City Makgeolli, started the same-day delivery service in the Seoul and Gyeonggi areas. The company also provides subscription services to its customers and delivers makgeolli to the customers every month.

Korean Cultural Centre on Facebook

TOTAL BLOG STATS

  • 2,591,034 HITS

Makgeolli is a traditional Korean milky rice wine. My husband and I enjoyed makgeolli once in a while when we were living in Korea (it is especially good, half way up a mountain, fresh and cold), but didn’t think about if often. It’s been a year since we have been back to visit and we really found ourself missing the refreshing taste. My husband set out to make a batch for me (Yay thanks!), and here is what we came up with.

Note : You MUST sanitize all the equipment and tools properly for a good result. Unintended bacteria could cause strange results.

What you need : – 4 lb of Sweet Rice (Medium long grain rice, sushi rice or sticky rice are all fine).

– 1 lb of Nuruk (You can buy it online from Hmart or a Korean Grocery Mart near you).

– 1 Tbs yeast (any kind)

– 8 Gallon container (for fermentation) & several big bowls

1. Wash your rice until water runs clear. It’s very important that you wash your rice very clean. You might have to wash it more than ten times.

* if you don’t know how to wash the rice, here’s the tip.

Pour the water and stir it with your hand several times. When water becomes milky, drain the water. Repeat this until water runs clear.

2. After you finish washing rice, soak it in the water about two hours and strain it about 40 minutes before you steam it.

How to make makgeolli

3. Add 3.5 L of water (1 USA gallon is 4L), 1 lb of Nuruk and 1 tbs of yeast to a separate bowl and mix it up well. Set aside for later.

This stage is pre-activation.

How to make makgeolli

4. I used hot water to sanitize the fermenter (8 Gallon container) but you can use any kind of sanitizer that you would use for wine or beer making.

How to make makgeolli

5. Dry the fermenter well.

How to make makgeolli

6. Now, we are making Godu-bap that will be steamed rice. Godu-bap is the booster to shorten the fermenting time and we want it to be really dry rice. Before you steam it, place the cheese cloth on the bottom of the steamer and put the rice on top of it. Wrap the cloth around the rice, cover it up and steam it about 40 minutes.

How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

7. If the rice is not cooked well, you can leave it a bit longer (half an hour more).

After it’s well cooked, you can stir the rice, and let it sit until the inside of the rice is cool.

Caution: If rice is too hot, it could kill the yeast. Even if the outside of the rice feels cold, the inside could still be hot.

How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

8. Once the rice is cool you can put it and contents of step 3 and mix them well using your hand.

How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

9. Cover the fermenter with the cheese cloth and place the fermenter in a warm room, with a temperature between 18 C to 23 C for the best result. It will take seven days of fermenting time.

( I used paper towel because I couldn’t find cheese cloth at that time and placed strainer on top of the fermenter to secure the cover. If you have wine or beer making equipment, I would suggest you to use them for fermenting)

How to make makgeolli

How to make makgeolli

10. Everyday, at least once a day, you have to stir it well to help with the fermentation process.

Don’t forget to sanitize the spoon before using it.

How to make makgeolli

If it is fermenting well, you can see that the makgeolli is breathing like this!:

11. One week later, when the fermenting stage is complete, we have to filter the makgeolli.

Add an equal amount of water to what was used (3.5L) to the fermenter.

Place big bucket (or bowl that is able to hold 7 L, a little less than 8 gallons, of liquid) and filter the makgeolli using the cheese cloth by putting the makgeolli into the cheese cloth and squeezing the precious liquid out.

I know it’s a hard job but it needs to be done and it will be worth it.

12. Now, all you need to do is the bottling. Please don’t forget, sanitize the bottles properly.

(In my case, I have saved several pop bottles and sanitized them with wine bottle sanitizer)

If you want, you can drink fresh makgeolli or you can add an equal amount of seven up or fruit juice if you desire. For even better taste, store in your refrigerator for one week before consuming.

Well obviously one of the best ways to learn to appriciate this drink is to learn how to make it. At its root it is really simple to make but like any great drink professional brewers have found ways to extract the very best flavors from the rice. You can learn here how to make a simple homemade makgeolli and how the pros use their creativity and resources to mold these amazing drinks.

* I still haven’t made my own Makgeolli, but Greg Boone has. Check out his blog! http://www.harmsboone.org/homebrewers-guide-makgeolli

A makgeolli producer, whose family has been producing makgeolli for five generations.

We took our first sip of makgeolli back in late September on the first night of our farming adventure with Wooriwa, pouring from enormous drums like the kind my Grandpa once used to fill up the pontoon with gas at the cabin. Since then, we have become enamored with the beverage, and perplexed by its composition. About a month ago we had the pleasure of learning how the beverage is brewed by the people who knew it best: fifth generation professionals.

Foreigners often call makgeolli a rice wine. In fact, makgeolli is not wine at all, as numerous food bloggers around Seoul have pointed out. It is not made like wine, and it does not look or taste like wine. Some may argue over what the proper genre makgeolli belongs in, but regardless of what it should be, makgeolli is delicious, and a must taste for all visitors to the Land of the Morning Calm. With its white color, don’t make the mistake a friend did on his first week in Korea and douse your cerial in the opaque white substance. It may look vaguely like milk, but it tastes nothing like it. The milky-hued, slightly sweet beverage is a perfect addition to any meal of pajeon and bossam, or just to sip through an outdoor concert in Hongdae. It is traditionally sipped from bronze bowls, and served from a kettle to match. Like the drink itself, the brewing process is at once straightforward and mysterious.

Mashing up the nuruk Korean style: with our hands.

The first step is to acquire a lot of rice. The main ingredient by far, there is a special variety of rice that produces the best makgeolli, but in a pinch a long grain rice you can buy at the grocery store should get the job done. When we brewed our makgeolli the exact proportions were unclear because we were brewing a lot of makgeolli as a large group, but the quantity was more than you could make in a rice cooker at home. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says 4 parts. Before you start the cooker, soak the rice in water (10 parts) for about an hour, then stop the cooking process before it’s cooked all the way. Let the rice cool down and then taste it. After your taste test is over, spread the rice out on your counter top. You may want to put down a sushi mat, or something else that will keep the rice from sticking to the counter.

After rice the second most important ingredient in this process is called nuruk. It was described to us as whole wheat yeast cake, but that’s not particularly helpful, and we suspected there was more to it than that. According to TheFAO, Nuruk is “wheat,rice, barley (whole grain, grits or flour)” with the fermenting microorganisms “Aspergillus, Rhizopus, [and] yeasts” packed together into a large cake, and then incubated for about three weeks, dried for two, and aged for about two months. We had seen these nuruk cakes around grocery stores and markets in town, but never really knew what they were. To the untrained eye, they look almost like a strangely shaped bird’s nest. To make makgeolli, the nuruk (one part) is added to mineral water and broken into tiny pieces with the hands until it is a muddy color and consistency. Once the mixture is at a proper consistence, add in the rice, and mix it in thoroughly.

Almost done with the process, the mix up nuruk, water, and rice is transferred from the bowl into the container it will ferment in for four days.

Korean cooking values working with your hands, and a lot of things that people elsewhere would use tools for, Koreans do with their hands. When making makgeolli, even though it would probably be easier to do this mixing with a large spoon, or a pair of cooking chopsticks, or even maybe a blender to break up those giant chunks of nuruk, you should use your hands. When all the mixing is done, jar it. We suspect traditional Koreans did not use plastic jars, but if you don’t have a kimchi pot laying around, it’ll do in a pinch. Like beer, the longer it sits, the more alcoholic it gets; though, the FAO shows the alcohol content plateaus around 16% after 4 days. We were told to first cover it with a paper towel so that the drink could breathe—the more air those yeasts get the harder they work—and then after two days cover it and let it ferment covered for two more days. Stir the whole mixture twice per day, again to keep the yeast working hard. After four days your makgeolli is ready to drink.

The magkeolli stays busy while it ferments in its shady lair (the closet for the air conditioner). The yeast keeps it bubbling for days, eating up sugars and giving us alcohol.

After we uncovered it and took our first sips, we were a bit shocked at the sourness of the makgeolli, as were many of the people with whom we brewed. Our friends who brew beer here, and a Twitter follower of mine suggested we add sugar to the mix to both cut the edge out of the drink, up the alcohol content, and add a little more carbonation, and this seemed to do the trick. The drink was a bit strong as alcohol goes, but it can easily be watered down to taste. Friends who tried it said it tasted like makgeolli. Mission accomplished.

To brew your own:

  • 1 nuruk cake, powdered (see here for how to make a nuruk cake)
  • 10 parts water
  • 4 parts rice
  1. Soak rice in tepid water for 1 hour
  2. Cook the rice until it is about 80% cooked.
  3. Allow the rice to cool
  4. While rice is cooling break nuruk cake until small pieces and mix into water until it turns a mud-like color.
  5. mix in rice
  6. transfer mixture to an earthen jar (if unavailable a plastic jar will do just as well)
  7. cover jar with a paper towel, or light cloth and allow it to ferment for two days
  8. cover jar with lid and allow to ferment another two days
  9. stir the makgeolli twice per day throughout the whole fermentation process.
  • Add one tablespoon of sugar per liter of makgeolli to each bottle
  • Filter makgeolli mixture through a cheesecloth and pour through a funnel into each bottle
  • seal bottles if possible, and refrigerate until ready to drink
  • To be traditional, transfer your makgeolli into a kettle, and pour into a small, bronze bowl
  • Add water to taste

How to make makgeolli

Makkoli, also known as makgeolli, is an unfiltered Korean rice wine with a cloudy, milky appearance. The low-alcohol wine is effervescent (lightly sparkling) and has a sweet-tart flavor profile. It is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in Korea, long considered a farmer’s drink, and is typically very affordable. Because of its natural probiotics, makkoli has a limited shelflife. It is often available on draft in Korea and served in small bowls.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Korea
  • Origin: Korea
  • Sweetness: Lightly sweet to sweet
  • Color: Milky white
  • ABV: 6–8%
  • Other Names: Makgeolli, nongju

Makkoli vs. Soju

While makkoli is yet to hit its stride in western markets, soju has become a popular drink at Korean restaurants and bars around the world. It’s widely available in liquor stores, and while it is another traditional Korean rice wine, it is very different. Soju is higher in alcohol, typically over 15%, and is filtered for a clear, light-bodied but boozier drink. It lacks the creamy texture and natural probiotics of makkoli and has a longer shelflife. Both taste great paired with Korean food, but soju won’t calm spice quite like makkoli.

How to make makgeolli

Taste and Flavor Profile

Makkoli or makgeolli is typically lightly sweet, but some cheaper version can be especially sweet thanks to added sugar or aspartame. Because it is unfiltered, it is slightly tangy, similar to yogurt. Most bottles of makkoli are lightly sparkling, making the drink effervescent. The nose can include sweet rice and yogurt, and the thick wine has a milky, creamy mouthfeel. It has low to medium acidity thanks to the natural fermentation and no tannins since it is not made using grapes.

Wine Production and Regions

Makkoli is a rice wine, meaning it is made using primarily rice rather than grapes. It is a traditional Korean drink dating back to the 7th century and is historically a cheap drink of the poor. More recently it has become popular in Korean bars, with various brands of makkoli served on tap.

Makkoli is made using cooked sweet rice and nuruk, a dry fermented cereal cake that works as a starter, encouraging mold growth which produces sugars that in turn produce alcohol. Other grains, such as wheat or barley, can be used in addition to the rice for different characteristics. The mixture is left in clay pots to ferment for about a week. Korea produces the vast majority of makkoli, with a few Japanese rice winemakers producing their own version.

Because makkoli is unfiltered and naturally fermented, it is best when drunk within a week or two after production. It will turn to rice vinegar within a few months. Many of the plastic bottles of makkoli available in the states are pasteurized, increasing their shelflife but killing off much of the bacteria that gives it its signature flavor and health benefits.

Food Pairings

Makkoli pairs best with sweet-spicy-sour-savory Korean food and can help diminish the effects of spicy food. Serve it chilled alongside spicy kimchi dishes like Kimchichigae or kimchi fried rice or have it with a fun dinner of Korean pork belly (bossam). Because it is lightly sparkling, served cold, and low alcohol, it makes an ideal daytime and summertime drink.

Makkoli is traditionally served poured into small bowls similar to soup. This allows the drinker to stir the cloudy rice wine, keeping the sediment from sinking to the bottom. If you don’t have small bowls available, serve in short tumblers. It can also be used in mixed drinks.

Health Benefits

Since makkoli is an unfiltered fermented drink, it contains healthy bacteria similar to yogurt. This bacteria may aid in digestion, giving the rice wine potential health benefits. It is also low in alcohol when compared to other wines and rice wines, making it less intoxicating. Note that most makkoli imported into America is pasteurized, removing most of the healthy bacteria. Locally made makkoli can sometimes be found in large cities with a sizable Asian population.