Thursday, June 20, 2013

Makgeolli will be the next big thing

Chestnut-infused makgeolli from Moon Jar
Soju is sort of gaining some notoriety outside of Korea, but I don't think most non-Koreans know what makgeolli is. Still, I do know that some of my non-Korean friends in New York City really enjoy the stuff (I'm looking at you, AK, if you're reading this), though it still pains me to have to pay $20 for a bottle of makgeolli that I could get for about $2 at a Family Mart here. I have nothing against soju, but it's just a weaker and sweeter version of vodka, which itself is a boring liquor that seems to come out with 10 pointless gimmicks every year. There's nothing quite like makgeolli on the other hand, especially the freshly brewed kind.

I had my first taste of makgeolli (Korean rice wine) when I went to Andong a few years ago. It had been a really hot summer day and my relatives had been showing us around the many temples and villages in the area. Needless to say, we were all sweaty, sticky, tired, and just beaten down.

At night, we sat outside to eat a dinner with all the classic Korean staples, most of which I had grown up eating. But there was one thing that was quite unfamiliar to me, and it was in a moderately-sized clay pot. It was a liquid, whitish and creamy in colour. At first glance, it looked like skim milk.

I'll never forget that first taste, though I don't quite remember what the exact sensations were. All I remember was that it was cool, smooth, and a little sweet. Best of all, after a few bowls (yes, they were served in little bowls and not cups), you felt a little buzz that just made everything better.

When most people think of Korean liquor, they think of soju. Some people love it, some people hate it. I'm pretty neutral about it. All I know is that my worst drunkenness tends to happen when I drink soju because I lose track of how much I drink. In America, I measure everything in terms of a single shot of 80-proof liquor. Soju is only 20% ABV, and you drink it throughout your meal, so my whole counting system goes haywire. It's as if I'm used to measuring in the metric system and I find myself using imperial units.

And then by the end of the night, I'm getting into confrontations with cab drivers after I kick their vehicles when they refuse to drive us home...

Anyway, back to makgeolli! It's a great drink, but the bottled kind that they sell on the cheap has that carbonated, Spritey taste that I don't like. For the really good stuff, you should go to a bar that makes fresh makgeolli. It won't cost you THAT much more than the bottled stuff, and it's so worth it.

I've only been to a couple of establishments that make their own makgeolli. Here they are:


My brother and me, enjoying makgeolli, boiled potatoes,
and kimchi
Wolhyang is located in Hongdae, and it's famous for its brown rice makgeolli that's almost as strong as soju. Just keep that in mind as you down bowl after bowl of this supposedly harmless drink.

Moon Jar

Another famous makgeolli joint, this one is in Apgujeong in the Rodeo area. The interior has a very worn-down feel that I think is supposed you remind you that makgeolli is a farmer's drink. I need to go back here many times to try all their different variations.

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