First things things… I wanna declare
I TOTALLY, COMPLETELY, ABSOLUTELY LOVE MAKGEOLLI!
There are several variations to romanizing makgeolli, but the most commonly seen ones are makgeolli (which is closest to the original Korean pronunciation), and makkoli, which is more commonly used in Japan.
So what is Makgeolli?
It’s the oldest alcoholic beverage in Korea, made from a mixture of wheat and rice which gives it its signature milky, off-white colour and sweetness. It is made from fermenting this mixture of boiled rice, wheat and water and is about 6-8% alcohol by volume.
Also called ‘takju‘ after its cloudy appearance, makgeolli is made by steaming glutinous rice, barley or wheat with water and the fermentation starter, nuruk. Unlike other traditional clear liquors like soju or cheongju, makgeolli isn’t distilled after fermentation, hence its milky, opaque appearance.
Back in the old days, way before industrialization, makgeolli is really more of a nongju (농주 / 農酒). Translated literally to ‘farm wine’, its origins was farmers’ liquor.
It lost favour in the 1970s, but has UNDERGONE MUCH TRANSFORMATION and is becoming more popular amongst the younger generation in the past decade, especially in more recent years. (Image below lifted from KOREA IT TIMES)
Some people described Makgeolli as KOREAN RICE WINE, but it’s really more like Korean rice beer if you ask me, hehe!
Yessss! Believe it or not, there are HEALTH BENEFITS to drinking makgeolli! Aside from the alcohol, the bulk of makgeolli is pure nutrition!
Other than the 80% water and 6-8% alcohol, makgeolli consists of 2% protein, 0.8% carbohydrates, 0.1% fat and 10% dietary fiber, along with vitamins B and C, lactobacilli and yeast.
Makgeolli is unfiltered and contains high levels of lactic acid and lactobacillus bacteria (said to be 500 times the level in yogurt!), which may positively affect immune function and slow the aging process. No wonder the ladies love it.
Yup, it in nutshell, makgeolli helps digestion, improves immune function and slows down the ageing process! No kidding!
How to Drink Makgeolli
Well, you can drink it neat (hehe, no ice please!), but remember to give it a good rousing shake if pouring from a bottled draft makgeolli!
Or you can also add a spritz of Sprite or 7-up into the drink to fizz it up! I love drinking it this way coz it’s like some sweet carbonated alcoholic drink!
Let me just sidetrack a little here… You know how we usually associated cider with apples? You might wanna know that cider doesn’t quite mean the same thing in Korea. I’m not sure why… but I do know that Lotte had launched Chilsung Cider, the first soft drink in Korea, back in 1950. It’s really like our Sprite or 7-Up, sorta a lemon lime soda. And from then on, cider is meant to refer to any lemon lime sode like Chilsung cider, Sprite or 7-Up. Nope, no apples or alcohol involved.
And now back to makgeolli…
Of course, you can also drink use makgeolli as ingredient to a fruit cocktail. Works better with fruits from the citrus family though.
This video is about an outing to a makgeolli bar in Itaewon. In the video, you can see the hosts trying many different kinds of makgeolli, including mango, grape and honey makgeolli!
Best Time for Makgeolli?
Really! There’s a tradition of drinking makgeolli and eating Korean pancakes when it rains!
Remember I was talking about how makgeolli used to be the farmers’ liquor? So on days when it rained, the farmers could not get to the fields to work, so they would gather to just drink makgeolli, and one of the easiest and cheapest food to prepare was fried pancake. That’s the origin of rainy day cuisine, really!!
And there’s also some talk that the sizzling sound of frying the pancake is not unlike the sound of falling rain, pitter patter pitter patter…
What a lovely notion, ya? Guess I’ve been following the Korean culture long enough to be conditioned to crave for makgeolli and pancakes when it’s raining!
if you haven’t tried it, you should!
More on Korean Pancakes
‘Jeon‘ (전) is an umbrella term that refers to any (Korean) food made like a pancake. Jeon, or buchimgae (부침개), or jijim (지짐), is made with ingredients (sliced meat, vegetables, seafood) that is first coated in flour or egg (or batter), and then pan-fried in oil.
I love love love anything made from flour, so you can imagine how much I adore jeon! Here’s where I satisfy my jeon craving in Singapore:
For seafood pancake, I go to Red Pig.
For leek pancake, I go to Kkokkonara.
For kimchi pancake, I go to Wang Daebak.
And of course, all three places serve makgeolli, hee! So now, you know where to go when it rains!
Other than pancakes, some Koreans also like their makgeolli with tofu kimchi. Me too!
Makgeolli Bars in Seoul
I highly recommend at least a visit to the makgeolli bar during your next visit to Korea. I’d only discovered makgeolli bars in the last couple of years, and been beating myself for not starting to go there earlier!
There’s something special about the ambience of makgeolli bars. Perhaps it’s also the sweet lure of the drink (it’s miraculously one of those that can get you drunk if you drink enough, but won’t give you a hangover!) that coaxes the most heartfelt of conversations amongst friends and loved ones. I just adore the entire experience of it all!
And of course, it’s so cheap too! I keep telling friends that it’s even cheaper than drinking coffee at some cafes… so drinking should start earlier in the day, fwahwahwah!
Each jug of makgeolli (flavoured or otherwise) is usually less than 10,000 KRW!! Really!
And the anju (side dishes that accompany the drinking 下酒菜) are usually super yummy! I usually go for the pancake, the tofu kimchi and some diced pork dish. These goes extremely well with makgeolli!
In case you’re actually planning your trip to Seoul as you’re reading this, let me recommend you three makgeolli bars in Seoul!
ZZANG…! My all-time fave is Danimgil in the Hongdae area. It’s not famous amongst foreigners, so that’s nice, haha!
Although in Hongdae, it’s actually located on an upper level off the less touristy part of Hongdae. I love the darkly lit place, the cozy tables and omnipresent service. The perfect elements of the quieter type of makgeolli bars which I love love love!
Lord knows how many heart-to-heart girly talks we’ve had here!
Another notable thing about this place is they will serve you a sampler when you’re seated. Something like this, complete with names.
And do try the half-half Korean pancake that’s uber nice here!
I understand that Wolhyang is popular amongst the peeps from the performing arts scene in Seoul, and oh, the Japanese also love this place.
It’s quite a biggish place with two sections, and the menu’s pretty extensive too.
Yup, also in Hongdae and it’s also ‘upstairs’, hehe! Decor’s colourful and vibrant. Lotsa character and personality, but not overwhelming or intimidating.
Click HERE to check out some fab photos of the Wolhyang.
Moon Jar actually doesn’t need any more introduction. It’s been around for some time now, and it’s made the rungs of many Must-Visit-Makgeolli-Bars-in-Seoul again and again, year after year. Read more HERE,
One other interesting snippet you might wanna know is that Kpop celebs have also been spotted at this place.
Housed in a white stand-alone building in the swanky Apgujeong area, Moon Jar is an interesting makgeolli bar in that the compounds is divided into sections, not unlike different rooms in a house. Each section has its own distinct and distinctive concept and flavour. Even if you’re seated on one floor, do go check out the other rooms on your floor and others, ya?
Other than makgeolli, this place also packs a neat pancake!
I can’t be sure if this happens every winter, but it happened when I visited Moon Jar one winter. The staff was roasting sweet potatoes in open fire and they gave these super yummylicious sweet potatoes to the patrons! Woohoo!
I think the Koreans normally already love sweet potato if their sweet potato latte is anything to go by. Sweet potatoes (or what they call goguma) is very much an essential snack in the wintertime. The Koreans refer to these roasted sweet potatoes goon goguma.
If you’re keen to find out more about the makgeolli bars in Seoul, you can also check out MMPKOREA, This blog is run by a group of people who love makgeolli and would share reviews of makgeolli and makgeolli bars. I think they organize meet-ups at makgeolli bars too.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this very informative and fairly interesting video on makgeolli. Watch!