Makgeolli Diaries is a series by one of our contributors Matt Birks. It is his aim to review all the different types of makgeolli in Korea and where to buy it. This is the first in the series, and gives an introduction to what makgeolli is, and where it comes from.

What is makgeolli?

You’ve seen it in the beer case of a convenience store, served in your neighborhood Korean restaurant and being enjoyed by a circle of middle-aged hikers on a mountain. This is Korea’s chalky white liquor, makgeolli. While not as famous as Soju, or consumed in the same vast quantities as beer, Makgeolli is part of Korea’s history; dating back as far as the 13th century.

Makgeolli is made from mainly rice, as well as wheat and other grains. The drink was first made popular by farmers in rural areas but now it is becoming more and more prevalent, especially amongst the younger generation.  Seoul, for instance, has a number of bars catering to those who wish to try this relatively inexpensive drink.

The liquor is best drank chilled out of a ceramic cup and jug. If served in a glass be prepared for a white stain that will require hard scrubbing due to its colour and thickness.

The most challenging part of makgeolli is to describe it to anyone who has not tried it before, because it is unlike any other alcohol. Makgeolli has been compared to rice wine and although I understand why it has been compared to a wine – because you drink it like you would any other wine m- in terms of taste makgeolli and wine are as different as grapes and rice, their two main ingredients.

Like any other alcohol, makgeolli varies in taste as there are many different types. Your run of the mill makgeolli comes in a green bottle and is the one you can easily buy just about anywhere in Korea. It has a slight subtle chalky flavor to it, with no strong or overwhelming taste.  It is light and partially carbonated, making it easy to drink.  While it doesn’t taste like rice whatsoever, it doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to understand that the distilled grain would produce this flavor.

Anyone who has not tried it before and is in Korea (or has access to a Korean grocery store), I’d recommend buying a bottle and trying it. Remember:  like most things in life, it’s best enjoyed with good company.

Images: Eat Drink Man and Matt birks

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