It starts out the same for most of us. You have just arrived in Korea. Your first night out, you slowly gather different sized coins until they add up to the amount of that little green bottle in the beverage fridge. The honeymoon period with soju ensues for a while, but for some like myself, it only lasts a few months. Now, even the smell of it sends me coiling and cringing at the KBBQ table. The little clear shot glass stares up at me, waiting to be drunk, but I usually elude the situation by pouring it in my Cass instead.
Initially most of us think soju, the cheap, easy to drink beverage, which sends middle-aged men to the ground, is all Korea has to offer in terms of traditional alcohol. Thankfully, there is more to Korean alcohol than just this.
Meet the much friendlier beverage, makgeolli.
If you haven’t already been exposed to makgeolli by everyone’s favorite (and sometimes least favorite) Hongdae bartender, Makgeolli Man, this traditional alcoholic beverage is a milky-off white color and is easily sipped, usually being around 6-8% alcohol content.
Originally, makgeolli was the ‘farmer’s drink’, a cheap beverage to have after a hard day in the field. Makgeolli uniquely stands in a class of its own, not technically being a beer or even a wine, and is not sipped from a glass or a cup, but from a bowl. As makgeolli rises in popularity among the younger generation and expat community, we can only expect to see more “craft makgeollis” becoming available.
Winter is fast approaching, and soon enough you’ll need another way to get your makgeolli fix rather than freezing and standing around Hongdae Park. Below I’ve compiled everything you need to know, from where to drink it, and even how to make it, to ensure you and makgeolli have a blissful relationship this season.
Any makgeolli house will be a warm and cozy place to spend some time chatting with friends. Many are easy to find, especially around Insadong, but these makgeolli houses are a bit overpriced compared to the many others that populate Seoul. Order some ‘pajeon’ (파전) or ‘dubu kimchi’ (두부 김치) to compliment your tangy makgeolli. The Wara Wara chain offers sweet fruit smoothie-like makgeolli pitchers for the beginner, but you will miss out on the unique and subtle flavors of the drink from traditional houses. Below are a few recommended houses, both modern and traditional.
A favorite of Julia and Monica, founders of Makgeolli Mamas & Papas Korea (see information on their organization below). Nakseo Pajeon is the place to come for an authentic makgeolli experience with some of the best pajeon in town. Not a looker from the outside, it is warm, cozy, social and friendly inside. Good for large and small groups.
Directions: Head to Hoegi (회기) Station on Line 1 and come out of exit 1. Walk down for about 5 minutes and you will see Pajeon Alley on your left. Nakseo is on the left hand side of the street, the sign is written in Hangeul. 서울 동대문구 휘경동 319-32.
On the opposite spectrum of makgeolli houses from Nakseo lies Muldwinda, a modern and fresh take on makgeolli. Muldwinda is stylish, relaxed, and also offers some unique dishes such as pumpkin pajeon and fried oysters. Muldwinda is next door to the Susubori Academy and is owned by the director. The affiliation and research done at Susubori there are key reasons Muldwinda offers such a quality experience.
Directions: Go to Chungjeongno station (line 2 & 5) and take exit 7. Turn right immediately and follow the road for about 7-10 minutes. It’s a quiet street, so you might feel like you are going the wrong way, until you will see a shining white building across the street with lights and windows…this is Muldwinda. 120-837 Seoul, South Korea 충정로3가 3-12 (경기대로 43)
Easy to overlook when walking down the main road in HBC,ㅎ (“H”) is a small but inviting makgeolli bar with one of the largest selections in Seoul. First, try the 2,000won makgeolli sampler, and from there order a bottle of your favorite. If that doesn’t suit you, the thick menu binders give information on where each makgeolli is made around Korea, along with alcohol content, and price.
Directions: Exit 2 Noksapyeong station, walk straight and go up the hill past the kimchi pots.“ㅎ” is on the left side of the street across from The Hungry Dog.
With two locations, one is Sinchon and the other Hongdae, either should be able to satisfy your makgeolli needs. While the Sinchon location is smaller, it has friendly service and a few different types of seating areas. An indoor patio allows for big open windows to enjoy in the warmer months. The Hongdae location is larger and busier.
Directions: Go to Sinchon station,take exit 3 and follow the road. When you get to the 2nd set of lights (a 4-way intersection with Uplex), do not cross the street, but turn right. Walk about 5 minutes (give or take a couple) and on your right there will be a small parking lot. Look up and you will see Makgeolli Sangdong.서울 서대문구 창천동5-36번지2층
The Hongdae address is located at:서울 마포구 서교동358-92번지1층
Once Spring blooms, do like the Koreans and take the makgeolli to the mountain. Don’t forget a few paper cups, as you will probably share and receive cups of the drink when mingling with people at the top.
Makgeolli Meet Ups
Whether you are a makgeolli beginner, or a makgeolli connoisseur, there is one group in Korea that meets regularly to talk all things makgeolli. Every three weeks, the Makgeolli Mamas & Papas Korea (MMPK) visit a different makgeolli house to drink, eat and be merry. Though it is mostly a casual time to meet new people and chat about a common interest, (everyone likes food and alcohol) the Makgeolli Mamas & Papas post a review of the visited makgeolli house after the event. You can get involved with MMPK, or check out all the other information they’ve posted, by visiting their website here.
Makgeolli classes can be taken at the Susubori Academy. In the coming weeks, weekend classes in English will be offered about once a month. As of right now, there is no set schedule for these classes. The best way to watch out for them is by ‘liking’ the . Classes can also be organized by request for groups of 8 or more.
Susubori Academy also offers longer makgeolli making courses which are 3 months in length and divided into four levels. The first few levels deal with hands-on makgeolli making, while the others delve into the chemistry and theory of makgeolli creation.
With the help of a Korean speaker, check out their website for more information on the longer classes. For information in English, stay updated via Facebook.
In essence, makgeolli is a simple drink. It is made from only three ingredients, and can be easily made at home once you’ve collected them. After brewing your own makgeolli, you can experiment with many different flavors. Seasonal ingredients like cinnamon or pumpkin go well with makgeolli, or you can blend in some fruit for an up-scale DIY cocktail. I even have some friends who swear by the (bizarre but surprisingly tasty) “makgeolli float.” Add ice cream to makgeolli for an alcoholic twist on the root beer version.
Ingredients: To make makgeolli at home you will need these basic, but specific ingredients.
-600 ml water
-500g godubap (sticky rice): Wash 500g of rice 5-7 times, then soak it for 30 minutes. Drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Steam the rice to make godubab. Boiled rice, or rice prepared in a rice cooker, may add too much water into the grains so it is important the rice for makgeolli is steamed. If you have a steamer, place a small amount of water in the bottom area, and steam the rice for about 1 hour or until fully cooked. If you can’t use a steamer, a second option would be to place the rice, and half as much water as usual, in a rice cooker. When the rice is cooked thoroughly (slightly hard) it may be removed from the rice cooker.
-45g nuruk (누룩): Nuruk is a type of yeast used to make the liquor. A mixture of water and this specific type of wheat is put into a mold and left for 20-30 days outside to dry. Nuruk it its final form can be purchased online here, www.wine2080.com (the website is mostly in Korean, and you will need to create an account first) or you can purchase it at the Susubori Academy. Other information online states it can be purchased inside traditional markets around Seoul, but that wasn’t confirmed.
1. Spread the godubap out to cool completely.
2. Coarsely grind the nuruk.
3. Mix the rice, nuruk and 500-600ml of water in a container.
4. Seal the container, and keep the mixture at 15-25 degrees Celsius.
5. Stir the mixture once or twice a day for 3 days.
6. Wait 4 more days, then filter through a colander or a pair of tights.
You can see from above that once you have the ingredients, making makgeolli is very simple. The taste of homemade makgeolli will be more tangy and sour than what you are used to from convenient stores. Store bought makgeollis are typically sweetened and watered down. To infuse other flavors into your homemade makgeolli, you can try adding fruit of other ingredients towards the end of the fermentation process. If you don’t want to experiment with this, add ingredients such as brown sugar, honey, cinnamon or any other flavor you prefer after the makgeolli has been filtered.
A big thanks to MMPK and Susubori Academy for helping provide us with great information on makgeolli creation and recommended houses.
Written and photographed by Jessica Wray of Curiosity Travels (blog and ). ‘Makgeolli Man’ image by Mike Stulberg.