A couple of years ago, the Daehanmingook Makgeolli Festival (대한민국 막걸리 축제) was held in Seoul’s World Cup Park in Sangam, a beautiful green space perfect for taking a stroll, lounging on the rolling hills, and, apparently, for sipping delicious makgeolli from all over the country. In 2013, the festival headed north to Lake Park in Ilsan New Town (호수공원, 일산신도시). I’ll admit – I had never made it out to Ilsan so I was skeptical that the new environs could compete with World Cup Park. However, while it’s a little inconvenient for those of us living in Seoul, Ilsan, and particularly Lake Park, is well worth the trek even if an all-you-can-drink makgeolli festival isn’t happening when you’re there.
After over an hour on various subway lines, we arrived at Jeongbalsan Station thirsty and ready for action. Ilsan Moonhwa Park (일산문화공원), the big rectangular plaza just west of the station, was split into two sections. The half closest to the station was lined with makgeolli stalls with a performance area and a few tables and chairs in the middle. The half closest to Lake Park was where the food vendors were hawking jeon, ddeokbokki, bossam, soondae, and a variety of other Korean dishes. But we were only interested in makgeolli at the moment. And with over 100 makgeollis and other types of traditional liquor available to try – for free! – we had a lot of work ahead of us.
Near the entrance, volunteers were doling out plastic sampling cups about the size of shot glasses. Informational pamphlets and such were also available but, unfortunately, all in Korean. I was a little disappointed with the cup; it would have been nice to have a proper cup or, even better, a commemorative makgeollijan (막걸리잔), the metal bowls you typically get at a makgeolli house. They did something like this at the sake festival I went to in Saijo, Japan. But then again the ticket for the sake festival was about $20 and the Ilsan makgeolli festival was completely free.
One of the first stalls was the foreigners’ table run by some helpful English-speaking volunteers and featuring about 30 or so of the makgeollis available throughout the festival grounds. You could even vote for your favorite in the hopes it would take home the foreigners’ choice award. (I believe there were other competitions too, such as the public’s choice award, but I either drank right through the awards ceremony or left before it went down.)
But, while the foreigners’ table was a very nice gesture, we wanted to visit each vendor’s booth to get the real experience. It must have taken two hours or so but I think we got to nearly every one. Some of the more exotic (and largely experimental in my opinion) were the flavored makgeollis. Of course, you could try the usual suspects, like chestnut, corn, and black bean makgeolli. But you could also find blackberry, yuzu (or 유자), Dokdo pumpkin, tomato, and, um, curry-flavored makgeolli.
I even tried something called Ihwa Nuruk Sogum (이화 누룩 소금) from Sul Seam (술샘) Brewery. It can best be described as makgeolli yoghurt: you actually eat it with a spoon and it will get you very, very drunk. They were also selling their nuruk (makgeolli yeast) and something called 미르40 – a kind of high-octane soju available to sample. In fact, there were a number of stalls showcasing other types of Korean liquor, like ihwaju and baekseju. One of the most popular stalls at the festival was giving out soju cocktails.
I have to say that, at the end of the day, my favorite makgeolli was the Daedaepo Blue Label (see my review here). I tried it both at the foreigners’ table and circled back to the vendor’s stall a couple times. On my last trip back, one of the women working the booth asked me if I thought it was good. When I responded, “It’s delicious!” in my best-broken Korean, she beamed and handed me a bottle for free! She told my friend that Daedaepo won the foreigners’ choice award in 2013 and she was pleased that I liked it.
All in all, it was a great day of wandering around, sampling makgeolli, and hanging out with the vendors and other makgeolli enthusiasts.
My one complaint was that there weren’t many places to sit and relax comfortably. It would have been better to switch the food area with the makgeolli area so people could spread out closer to the lake and still have the makgeolli nearby. As it was, people made do by huddling on small strips of parkland under trees or just by spreading their mats on the plaza itself. I guess it wasn’t too bothersome as I saw quite a few people taking a midafternoon snooze. No doubt physical exertion was the culprit, not over-indulging in makgeolli. Those who were still conscious were enjoying a nice makgeolli picnic, a chat, the entertaining performances, or all three.
CITY: Goyang, Ilsan
LOCATION: Lake Park
SUBWAY: Jeongbalsan Station
TIME: October 4 – 5