July 2, 2022
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(CNN) — Kim Kyung-seop remembers going to low cost bars after class together with his pals, the place they binged on as a lot makgeolli as doable.

“You already know the saying, ‘alcohol consumes males?’ It was like that.”

Makgeolli, the milky and sometimes candy conventional rice wine from Korea, was chosen for its value, not taste.

In 1989, when Kim entered school, half a gallon of makgeolli price about 40 cents. He and his pals would sit round a desk, pouring makgeolli from a brass kettle into particular person brass bowls, as is custom.

Kim, now an adjunct professor at World Cyber College in Seoul, has been educating makgeolli brewing strategies for 10 years. But he remembers his early encounter with the drink being unpleasantly bitter and bitter.

“Once we have been with ladies, we’d drink beer. However among the many boys, we drank makgeolli.” Makgeolli — with its much less stylish repute — was unfit for impressing ladies.

Twenty years later, in bars throughout South Korea’s capital, the lackluster drink from Kim’s reminiscence was changing into fashionable, this time within the arms of a younger era of entrepreneurs and brewers.

“We labored very arduous to get rid of the established photos individuals maintain of makgeolli,” says Kim.

Kim Min-kyu (no relation to Kim Kyung-seop) is one brewer who had been main the change. He launched his premium makgeolli brewery Boksoondoga in 2009.

Min-kyu’s teetotaler, religious Christian father opposed his plan — particularly after having spent the household fortune supporting his son’s 5 years of coaching as an architect in New York Metropolis’s Cooper Union. His father even smashed a clay pot used for brewing makgeolli in a match of anger.

Min-kyu was not deterred. He believed within the energy of his grandmother’s makgeolli recipe.

When he was a baby, he would go to her farmhouse in Yangsan, a city within the southeast. She would combine half-steamed rice along with her do-it-yourself yeast and water. And he would take heed to the quiet effervescent of air because the combination fermented into makgeolli. His fondest recollections have been his grandmother generously sharing the completed brew with the neighbors, after which they’d sing and dance.

He satisfied his household that brewing is an extension of structure for him. Making use of his coaching, he designed the branding, the advertising and marketing supplies and the brewery constructing, whereas his mom brewed the makgeolli, creating the primary bottle of Boksoondoga. Doga means “brewery,” and Boksoon is Kim’s mom’s identify.

The timing was fortuitous. Makgeolli was coming out of a century-long darkish age.

Kim Min-kyu is one of the trailblazers of Korea’s new makgeolli scene.

Boksoondoga

The historical past of a drink

Makgeolli is a mixture of the Korean phrases mak (which means “roughly completed” or “a second in the past”) and geolleun (“filtered”).

Whereas the identify first seems in “Gwangjaemulbo,” an encyclopedia presumed to have been written within the nineteenth century, the opaque alcoholic drink probably dates again a millennium.

One early twentieth century document claims that it was consumed in each nook of Korea.

“Makgeolli is inherent to Korean tradition, it’s the drink of Korean individuals,” Kim Kyung-seop says.

One motive for the recognition is its simplicity. It is a mix of steamed rice, yeast and water, left to ferment for a couple of weeks in a clay pot. Many households throughout Korea brewed their very own drinks with their distinctive recipe.

The Japanese colonization through the first half of the twentieth century introduced the tip of many cottage industries. The colonial authorities phased out homebrewers in favor of standardized, industrial liquor makers. All alcohol-making was taxed and licenses have been required, even for self-consumption.

A couple of mass-produced drinks dominated the market and, by 1934, homebrewing was outlawed.

World Battle II and the Korean Battle left the nation devastated. The brand new authorities continued the coverage of tightly controlling alcohol manufacturing. Because the meals scarcity worsened within the Nineteen Sixties, utilizing rice — makgeolli’s key ingredient — to supply alcoholic drinks was banned.

Producers used wheat and barley as substitutes and makgeolli’s recognition sunk. It was supplanted by trendy soju, a transparent liquor made by diluting ethanol. Because the financial system improved and rice provide outstripped consumption, the rice alcohol ban was lifted in 1989 and homebrewing was made authorized once more in 1995. However a lot custom was misplaced.

Pyongyang Pub, a North Korea-themed bar, has opened its doorways within the South Korean capital — and it has raised a couple of eyebrows.

Bringing it again house

The restoration of the misplaced artwork of makgeolli brewing can largely be credited to pioneer researchers like Park Rock-dam. Park traveled throughout Korea for 30 years amassing recipes and recreating outdated strategies.

The federal government additionally reversed course on its earlier coverage, embracing conventional alcohol as a proud heritage — and doubtlessly profitable — business.

In 2016, the federal government allowed small scale breweries and distilleries to promote their alcoholic drinks by decreasing the brewing tank dimension requirement from 5,000 to 1,000 liters. The subsequent 12 months, conventional alcoholic drinks got the distinctive privilege of being bought on-line and delivered on to customers.

Whereas the Covid-19 pandemic prevented individuals from going out to bars and eating places, on-line and offline gross sales of makgeolli soared. In accordance with a 2021 report revealed by Korea Agro-fisheries and Meals Commerce Company (aT), a government-operated firm that promotes agricultural merchandise, the makgeolli market grew by 52.1% whereas the full liquor market shrank by 1.6% in 2020.

Kim Kyung-seop teaches a makgeolli brewing course.

Kim Kyung-seop

In Kim Kyung-seop’s makgeolli class, half of the scholars are entrepreneurs, many of them ladies of their 30s or youthful. Ten years in the past, virtually everybody at school was over 50 and seeking to brew makgeolli as a pastime of their retirement.

Since 2009, the quantity of makgeolli brewing license holders have elevated by 43%, based on Nationwide Tax Service knowledge.

Kim says that opening a makgeolli brewery is a lot simpler than every other kind of alcohol. Whereas tools for establishing a beer microbrewery is round 200-300 million received ($155,000-233,000), tools for a makgeolli brewery might be acquired for 10 million received ($7,800), Kim says. Moreover, it solely takes 4 3-hour lessons to brew one thing that’s higher than the mass market makgeolli, he provides.

Going world

An Australian citizen, Julia Mellor initially got here to South Korea to show English. Then in 2009, she encountered makgeolli.

Now, her enterprise The Sool Firm supplies makgeolli lessons and consultations for these eager about opening their very own brewery, however most of her purchasers are from abroad. She says her enterprise quadruped through the pandemic.

Her purchasers are from international locations just like the US, Singapore and Denmark. Many of them are members of the Korean diaspora. “They watch Korean individuals having fun with it right here and they’re impressed to carry it again to their nation,” she says.

“It was so totally different, so attention-grabbing. It is uncommon to find one thing individuals on the planet haven’t heard of.”

She organized meetups with fellow fans and finally taught herself Korean as a result of most sources weren’t accessible in English.

Individuals in a The Sool Firm tasting session maintain up their glasses.

The Sool Firm

Mellor believes makgeolli will enchantment to international audiences.

“It’s very simple to homebrew. You merely want rice and nuruk (yeast).”

And for her, propagating the makgeolli carries one other layer.

“This is saving one thing that was on the brink of disappearing,” says Mellor.

Kim Min-kyu says his makgeolli will probably be bought within the US and Austria this 12 months and different Western consumers have been approaching him. His makgeolli is already successful in Japan, the place it grew to become common throughout Hallyu, or the Korea-wave within the mid-2000s, a interval when the success of Ok-dramas and Ok-pop opened the door to different cultural exports like kimchi and conventional drinks.

“To international customers, this pure fermentation is thought of wholesome, natural and clear. And it’s a sort of alcohol they’ve by no means seen earlier than,” Min-kyu says.

Korean “delicate energy” has expanded past Asia up to now few years. He believes makgeolli can journey this wave.

Making it cool

Regardless of the speedy advance of makgeolli, the South Korean alcoholic beverage market is nonetheless dominated by soju and beer, which account for greater than 80% of gross sales.

Min-kyu says the best problem going through makgeolli makers is the general public notion that the drink is for outdated individuals. Most of his promoting and advertising and marketing focuses on altering this notion. In a single advert, a sharp-looking male mannequin with shaved head and eyebrow piercings delicately pours the makgeolli right into a champagne flute.

Altering perceptions referring to the meals finest paired with makgeolli is one other impediment.

In Korean tradition, alcohol is virtually at all times consumed with a set meal or snack. For makgeolli, this is jeon, a Korean savory pancake made by frying meat or greens in seasoned flour batter.

“A cool sip of makgeolli after a chew of savory scallion jeon acts as a palate cleanser readying you to completely get pleasure from one other savory chew,” Kim Kyung-seop says.

The combo is particularly common on wet days. The sale of makgeolli and substances for jeon climbs sharply on wet days throughout main comfort retailer chains, based on a report by the Ministry of Economic system and Finance.

However premium makgeolli, with its large spectrum of taste, effervescence and physique can pair effectively with any kind of meals, Min-kyu says.

“I drink it with jajangmyeon (a Chinese language-Korean noodle dish) and it pairs very effectively with ice cream too. As a result of it’s a fermented drink, it tastes nice with different fermented meals. I believe it’s scrumptious with kimchi and actually flavorful cheese,” Min-kyu added.

Boksoondoga makgeolli was lately the primary providing at a gastropub inconspicuously nestled within the fashionable Hapjeong district of Seoul. Fashionable bartenders deftly poured the drink into stemless wine glasses. The shoppers, largely younger professionals, savored the drinks whereas enjoyable to hip-hop music. In a leather-bound menu, beef tartare was being supplied alongside an array of different premium makgeolli manufacturers.

On the tables, extra ladies crammed the seats than males did. After every pour, the bartender defined the flavors and the origin. They smiled. They lifted the glass to their lips, rigorously listening to every word hidden within the drink.

Jihye Yoon and Minji Track contributed to this report

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