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Meet Makgeolli | Craft Beer & Brewing

There is a new fermented drink on the town—new to many American drinkers, anyway. The truth is, makgeolli is historical; as a rice drink, it’s regarded as Korea’s oldest alcoholic beverage. Now, thanks largely to 2 New York Metropolis–based mostly producers, it is sparking extra curiosity on the American craft-beverage scene.

So, what’s it?

For Alice Jun, founding father of Hana Makgeolli in Brooklyn, defining makgeolli begins with defining solar. That is the phrase that Koreans use right this moment for all types of alcoholic drinks—it means booze, basically—however its older that means is particularly related to traditions of fermented drinks. Particularly, Jun defines it as a standard grain-based beverage fermented with nuruk.

Nuruk is a fermentation starter—sometimes a rice-, wheat-, and/or barley-based inoculate that features wild fungi and micro organism, together with yeast and Lactobacillus. Sool, in the meantime, is not essentially rice-based—it may be produced from something from wheat or sorghum to candy potato or tapioca. Makgeolli, nevertheless, is a sort of sool made with rice. It’s roughly filtered and sometimes sturdy, clocking in between 6 and 18 p.c ABV.

Sool additionally occurs to be the title of the opposite firm producing craft makgeolli in america. Its Màkku model known as “rice beer” to abide by sure TTB laws. Nonetheless, founder Carol Pak says this may be tough to clarify, because it could possibly be confused with rice lager. As with Japanese sake, many individuals discuss with makgeolli as “rice wine,” even whether it is technically beer.

Visually, nevertheless, there isn’t any mistaking makgeolli for rice lager. The drink is milky-looking, due to the sediment that continues to be after some coarse filtering. It is carbonated, however on the decrease finish of the size, similar to a energetic cask ale. (Sool force-carbonates Màkku, whereas Hana carbonates naturally throughout fermentation.)

The flavors might be wide-ranging and sophisticated. Relying on the rice, the nuruk, fermentation time and temperature, and potential botanical additions, makgeolli might be any mixture of candy, tart, funky, bitter, bitter, floral, and earthy—a captivating universe of chance for a distinct segment conventional drink.

Makgeolli Involves America

Hana Makgeolli has an ethereal house away from the well-trodden blocks of Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, however curious native drinkers are more and more looking for it out. Jun is a second-generation Korean American, and she or he grew up homebrewing makgeolli together with her father de ella in rural California.

“Homebrewing was an especially widespread home observe throughout Korea, simply earlier than the Nineteen Fifties,” Jun says. “Households move that data by way of generations. My dad discovered from his mom from him, and I discovered from my dad once I was fairly younger. It is one thing we did at residence, casually, in the identical means that we cook dinner collectively.”

When brewing a heritage-based model with out recipes on the prepared, as Jun says, errors occur. Intrigued, she started researching these errors, attempting to determine why they occurred. Alongside the best way, different components of makgeolli sparked a ardour. Jun discovered about how girls developed, superior, and documented makgeolli. She discovered about its significance in instances of battle, occupation, famine, and industrialization in Korea. She sought out Korean experience on makgeolli brewing, with the concept of ​​bringing an artisanal model to america.
When speaking about launching their corporations, each Jun and Pak cite their very own love of the style of makgeolli and the experiences of sharing it with associates and pairing it with meals. Additionally they communicate of their want to supply folks of Korean heritage one thing acquainted, in addition to to succeed in individuals who’ve by no means tried it earlier than.

Because it occurs, business traits could have helped make their timing auspicious. Earlier than the hard-seltzer growth, Pak labored for a tough kombucha model, the place she watched the trajectory of drinks equivalent to laborious kombuchas, teas, and ciders, typically between 4 and seven p.c ABV, with no hops, loads of taste variation, and sometimes some sweetness.

“Makgeolli … has a variety of comparable traits,” Pak says, “nevertheless it’s nonetheless extensively completely different from every thing when it comes to its taste profile.”

The industrial availability of makgeolli is not new. Probably present in a Korean restaurant or Asian grocery, the makgeolli typically noticed stateside is available in inexperienced bottles—as does its cousin, soju, which can be produced from rice, water, and nuruk, however is drier and better in alcohol. There’s a complete system of bottling corporations sharing and recycling these bottles, and corporations merely supply ready-made elements—together with ethanol and sweeteners—bottle it up, and ship it off. They don’t seem to be the form of artisanal merchandise that Hana and Sool make.

“I do not suppose there’s essentially something incorrect with it,” Jun says of the mass-produced, green-bottled makgeolli. “There positively is a time and place for it in social settings with completely different meals. … That being stated, I do have an issue with folks saying that’s positively what makgeolli needs to be with none actual historic context or openness to studying how that product was made within the first place.”

Jun says that these industrial makgeolli are sometimes made with extremely processed wheat flour or tapioca flour, rice flavoring, citric acid, and sweetening brokers equivalent to aspartame—an arguably outdated alternative, she says, contemplating what we find out about aspartame right this moment and what number of different alternate options exist.

Picture: Courtesy Hana

Makgeolli’s Resurgence in Korea

The best way industrial makgeolli has come to be made—in addition to its newer craft revival in Korea—are simply a part of makgeolli’s lengthy historical past.

The primary documented point out of makgeolli dates to the tenth century. It was thought of a drink of the working courses—it was low-cost and simple to make, and farmers might use extra rice crops. Quick-forward to the twentieth century, when the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910–1945) after which the Korean Warfare (1950–1953) launched numerous obstacles to the custom, whether or not associated to produce or politics or tradition. In 1934, the Japanese imperialist authorities banned homebrewing, so that every one alcohol can be produced in factories and taxed. In 1965, the South Korean authorities banned using rice to make alcohol due to rice shortages and starvation. It didn’t carry the rice-drink ban till 1990, and the homebrewing ban lasted nonetheless one other decade.

Throughout these bans, Pak says, folks began making makgeolli with completely different grains and rice flavorings. As bigger makgeolli producers did the identical, the heritage model of makgeolli brewing was briefly misplaced. New generations obtained to know makgeolli as a candy, soda-like beverage, stereotyped as an “previous particular person’s drink”—or, as Jun says, marketed as a “drink for girls.” Nonetheless, extra not too long ago, a youthful era of Korean and Korean-American adults are looking for out conventional makgeolli as a connection to their cultural roots.

“Earlier than, makgeolli had a stigma [that] it was for previous folks, and Korea was rising, turning into wealthy, and the era earlier than ours did not need something to do with an inexpensive drink,’” Pak says. “They wished to westernize—drink wine, spirits, and new merchandise.” Many in Pak’s era, nevertheless, wish to rejoice Korean heritage, and makgeolli is an integral a part of that.

A proliferation of craft-makgeolli breweries and bars in Korea helped encourage Pak to launch the Màkku model in america. Yearly she returns to Korea, she finds there are dozens extra breweries and bars; she compares it to the American craft-beer scene. Not solely are youthful folks exploring their tradition by way of makgeolli, however there’s additionally what Pak describes as a comparatively low barrier of entry in how straight ahead it’s to make makgeolli. That encourages extra folks to start out brewing.

Nuruk, the Predominant Attraction

Nuruk is the workhorse of a makgeolli recipe. Amahl Turczyn, an affiliate editor for the Brewers Affiliation who’s written about makgeolli for Zymurgy journal, compares nuruk to koji for fermenting sake, or to SCOBY for fermenting kombucha.

Step one is getting ready the rice. Jun says that unpolished rice is the selection of conventional makgeolli brewers, however glutinous or regular medium-grain rice can be used. It have to be washed and soaked, then cooked so it is gelatinized and prepared for saccharification. After including water and nuruk, fermentation kicks off virtually instantly.

Makgeolli is coarsely filtered; some sediment will stay. Sool urges prospects to shake its Màkku cans earlier than opening, so the rice sediment creates the hazy, clean creaminess attribute of makgeolli.

Pak compares the end result to a sake seltzer. Makgeolli, she says, “has a mochi-like texture. It is delicate, and it tastes like sake due to the rice, however there are additionally floral and fruity notes from the yeast, and a slight tartness from the Lactobacillus by-product of nuruk.”

So far as branching out from there to be funkier or sweeter or drier or extra bitter, it is about course of and methodology, Jun says. “What are you able to do about the kind of rice you employ, the way you cook dinner it? When do you introduce it to a brew? What temperature is it stored at?”

The preliminary fermentation takes about 4 to 6 days. Persevering with to feed rice into the brew deepens the flavour, Pak says. Each additional rice addition means one other spherical of fermentation. It lengthens the method however makes for a naturally sweeter completed product. For Màkku, Pak does two completely different phases, taking about 10 days.

There’s a component of terroir, too, and the fermentation starter is important to that. “The terroir is pushed by the nuruk,” Jun says. “In fact, the rice and the place it is grown, too, however principally the nuruk.” Nuruk made in northern components of Korea tends to be drier and extra bitter; Nuruk from Korea’s southernmost area leans extra lactic, tarter, and sweeter.

Brewers can add different flavors, too. Hana provides chrysanthemum flowers and hydrangea tea leaves to its Hwaju 12, which is fermented in 4 phases. Sool provides fruit purees to completed makgeolli to create ardour fruit, blueberry, and mango varieties.

Starting to Brew Makgeolli

Mirandi Pohl is manufacturing supervisor at Hana, after having most not too long ago brewed at Queens Brewery. Diving in to study each facet of makgeolli brewing has not solely been rewarding, she says, nevertheless it additionally has crystallized the similarities and variations between brewing beer and makgeolli.

Cleansing is a big aspect of each processes. The gear principally straddles each worlds: Among the makgeolli equipment is restricted, however tanks have been repurposed from beer breweries with Jun’s engineering know-how. Pohl says there’s much more bodily contact with the elements than anticipated. Additionally, due to the lactic micro organism concerned, makgeolli brewers aren’t as afraid of oxygen as beer brewers. “It is really vital to the method,” she says, “which is the other of what I’ve identified or been taught about fermentation.”

You do not have to be in New York to strive craft makgeolli. Hana ships to 41 states, and Sool ships Màkku to twenty-eight. Or, in fact, you’ll be able to brew it your self.

Some fundamentals to start out, through Turczyn: After cleansing and cooking your rice, cool it to 70–75°F (21–24°C). Put it in a clear container, sprinkle your nuruk on high, and blend it for a consistency like moist sand. “It will likely be fairly dry,” Turczyn says. “As soon as these enzymes break down, it liquefies.”

Hold the container at a heat temperature, lined with fabric. Stir twice a day, and you will see carbon dioxide manufacturing begin. When the sediment begins to drop, the makgeolli turns a kind of amber, so you’ll be able to sieve that sediment out.

Homebrewing makgeolli is a connection to the best way this custom has traveled by way of Korean households for generations. The straightforward act of consuming it’s a celebration of tradition. And, as Jun says, it “shines a lightweight on the artisan makgeolli brewers in Korea, who need to have their merchandise revered.”


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