Makgeolli, A Must-Try Korean Traditional Alcoholic Drink

 

If you are currently watching Disney+ original K-Drama, Soundtrack #1, you must be very familiar with the drink that always appears on every episode, not only once, but several times. This white bottled beverage is called Makgeolli (막걸리).

 

Eunsoo and Sunwoo are enjoying makgeolli during their dinner (picture from Soundtrack #1 scene)

 

Makgeolli is an unfiltered Korean rice wine that is made from fermented rice. It has an off-white, milky appearance that is slightly viscous. The alcohol concentration is low, 6-9% and it is considered a communal beverage rather than hard liquor. Makgeolli has a slightly sweet and tangy taste with a hint of bitter and astringent feel.

 

Makgeolli is made from rice using nuruk—a dry cereal cake that is used as a Korean fermentation starter and will promote the growth of molds producing enzymes that decompose the starches of the cereal grain into sugar. The yeast then uses this sugar to produce alcohol through the fermentation process. There are some types of nuruk, based on what it is made from that will affect the makgeolli flavors.

 

Nuruk (picture credit to Korea Times)

 

Due to its short shelf-life, Makgeolli should be consumed within a month after the production. The alcohol taste develops over time. During the early time, Makgeolli tastes milder and creamier and it builds up getting stronger as the time goes by. After a couple of months, it will turn into the rice vinegar.

 

As the food technology gets more and more advance, now we can find bottled, soft-drink style makgeolli at the supermarket or mini-mart that has a longer shelf life because it has been through a pasteurization process that deprives the enzymatic reaction.

 

Bottled makgeolli that can easily be found at the supermarket (picture credit to bomanta.com)

 

Modern and commercialized makgeolli does not use nuruk as the starter. Instead, the manufacturers use non-traditional manufactured fermentation starter that is diluted with water and contain additives such as aspartame that will give sweetness to the liquor without adding a fermentable carbohydrate. This technique increases the shelf life of commercialized makgeolli.

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