What Does Makgeolli Taste Like? (Very Strange)

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Cocktails, food, and a group of friends are the ideal social situation in Korea. Things like sake and soju, along with other rice-based alcohols, are the most common to drink. 

But, there’s nothing quite like makgeolli. This is a rice-wine beverage that uses fermentation from a wheat-based culture.

So, what does makgeolli taste like? This classic Korean beverage is unexpectedly fizzy. It has a milky appearance and consistency. 

But the flavors combine many complex aromas and tastes that can range from sweet and sour to floral and dusty.

Let’s dive deeper.

About Makgeolli

Also pronounced makkoli, makgeolli is the oldest alcoholic beverage in Korea. It dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918AD to 1320AD), but it may well be much older than that.

Some argue it may even stretch as far back as the Three Kingdoms period (57BC to 668AD), when agriculture became an important aspect of daily life.

This used to be something made in every home around rural and agricultural communities. 

Therefore, everyone would add a bit of variety or a touch of something different to make it a special family beverage. 

They drank this daily and at weddings or other special occasions.

What made this so accessible on a domestic level is the quick process for making it. 

Combining three ingredients and a single fermentation process, it is ready to drink in about seven to 10 days. 

Therefore, households would have their stockpile of the stuff.

Makgeolli is Healthy & Nutritious

This provided great refreshment for farmers, especially in the middle of the afternoon sun. Not only would it be cooling, but it was also very hydrating. 

Even today, construction workers, farmers, and other outdoor laborers will drink some makgeolli during their lunch break.

While some people may lift an eyebrow at people consuming alcohol during a hard day’s work, it’s actually quite healthy

Traditional styles of makgeolli are high in vitamins B and C along with fiber and probiotics. It’s high in carbohydrates, which is ideal when working outside. [1]

Makgeolli’s Alcohol Content

Makgeolli is not a very strong drink at all. Today’s commercial versions range between 6% and 9% ABV (alcohol by volume).

However, traditional versions or ones produced independently can be much higher. Some are 12% while others are as much as 20%. Even still, it’s not something that will cause severe tipsiness after one drink.

How Makgeolli Tastes

Makgeolli is not like any other fermented rice beverage you can find in Korea. Generally, this milky white fluid has a bit of fizzy to it. 

But the palette and nose of it can take on a range of flavors and aromas. 

While Koreans tend to love this, some Westerners have a problem stomaching it due to its strange and unique blend of tastes.

Almost all of them combine some aspect of sweet and sour with a touch of bitterness and a somewhat chalk-like texture. 

But, others are fruity, while some are floral. Yet, there are those with a dusty taste. Plus, no makgeolli is alike; all of them are different and original in their way.

Because of its texture and thickness, it’s quite filling in and of itself. However, it’s best when drunk with food. 

It pairs well with grilled meats, Korean-style savory (or sweet) pancakes, and kimchi

But, because of its high calorie and carbohydrate counts, it’s best when taking a break from intense physical activity.

Production & Ingredients of Makgeolli

Makgeolli is a water-based brew with rice along with nuruk. Nuruk is a wheat-based fermentation starter that combines yeast and bacteria. [2]

It’s what helps the rice break down quickly and formulates the mash, which results in a light alcoholic drink.

The process itself is rather easy, and many people still make it at home. It comprises steamed rice and mixing it with water in a 1:1 ratio along with nuruk. 

It sits for about a week and then filters through a strainer. However, individual variations of makgeolli will employ varying ratios to make it stronger or give it other flavors.

For instance, the water may comprise an infusion of flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, or other herbs. 

Commercial brews will include things like licorice or red ginseng. However, many brands in the 

Korean market will include aspartame and high fructose corn syrup. These are famous as cancer and diabetes-causing agents. [3]

Drinking & Storing Makgeolli

The best way to drink makgeolli is cold. Some people like it at the same temperature as a typical white wine, while others prefer it nearly frozen. 

It comes served in shallow bowls or partially-filled cups.

But, before opening the bottle, observe the bottom for sediment and the label for indications of pasteurization. 

This is what gives many types of makgeolli its chalky and somewhat thick texture. Some people will mix this up by turning the bottle upside down. 

Others prefer to drink the top liquid and let the sediment alone.

However, when mixing the sediment into the beverage, you have to release air from the bottle slowly. 

The bit of carbonation will cause an explosion if you’re not careful, in a similar manner to a soda. 

However, unpasteurized and unopened makgeolli will keep for a couple of months. Once the bottle opens, drink it within a week.

Conclusion

Makgeolli is the oldest alcoholic beverage in Korea. It was an important aspect to agricultural life and is still important to anyone who labors outside. 

Its low alcohol content is ideal for eating with food like kimchi too. It’s versatile yet different, but very much at the heart of Korean history and culture.


References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-c-benefits
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuruk
  3. http://blogs.biomedcentral.com/on-medicine/2014/11/25/dairy-products-and-type-2-diabetes-protective-or-harmful/

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul over 4 years and during that time, he has experienced a lot of the city's quirks and charms. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others who are interested in learning more about South Korea.

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