Another week, another makgeolli event! After the Daehanmingook Makgeolli Festival in Ilsan and the Insadong Makgeolli Festival, I will admit it – I was feeling a little makgeollied out. But I’m an honest person and I believe you can’t call in a sick day to work if you’re not really sick. Same with booze-related events for the Takjoo Journals. So I met some friends for a big lunch and we forged ahead into more makgeolli-inspired madness. This time we were off to COEX’s Makgeolli Expo.
I was a little put-off to find out that this event cost ₩10,000, especially when the two previous events were free. But I got out my wallet and paid anyway. After all, when you think about what you might pay for a nice bottle of wine or a fine scotch or even just to do a tasting, makgeolli is just a drop in the kettle. Sure, I’ve seen some makgeollis that cost four, maybe five, thousand won (the equivalent of roughly $5 U.S.) but this is on the extreme end. The point is if you’re hard up, there’s no better booze in terms of quality for price.
The lady at the ticket counter warned us – after we bought our tickets! – that there really wasn’t that much to sample inside. Now, I should say I was prepared for this: I learned a day or two previous to going that the Makgeolli Expo was actually just a part of a bigger convention called Food Week Korea. So, when we wandered in and saw a presentation wall with a few sad-looking bottles, we just resigned ourselves to make the best of a bad situation.
We stopped to sample at the first makgeolli table, and the next… and the next, and the next. It was clear that the woman at the door either never stepped foot inside the hall or she has no idea what makgeolli is.
Now, it wasn’t easy going – we had to be methodical because the makgeolli booths were scattered throughout the hall. When I proposed that they should have had a more logical layout, my friend reminded me how drunk we’d be if they were all clumped together. Plus, interspersed through the makgeolli booths were vendors with samples of yogurt and cheeses straight from farms, dried fruit products, honey of varying grades and infusions, seaweed things, all-natural peanut butter, fresh squeezed juices, red pepper pastes, dried sea creature edibles, and a cornucopia of other types of Korean booze – in short, it was a sensory sample overload.
The first booth we came across was for Baesangmyeon Brewery, the makers of Neurin Maul. They had the “summer season” with them (if you don’t know what that is, read my review here), and it was still, out of the 40 or 50 makgeollis we ended up trying that day, the best of the lot. I just can’t say enough good things about Neurin Maul!
Another booth not too far down the line was Seoul Jangsoo – a brand that is like the Cass or Hite of the makgeolli world. Despite that, I wanted to try Ee:FF, their latest canned makgeolli, because I’d only ever seen it on their website. They also had a new ginseng-infused makgeolli that they were pushing. As we were sampling, I noticed a makgeolli bottle costume sitting unused in the corner. The guy in the booth, one of the nicest people we met at a convention full of overwhelmingly nice people, told me to go ahead and try it on. Finally, as we were leaving, I asked if I could buy one of his nice ceramic makgeolli jan and he just gave it to me for free. Whatever your opinions about their makgeolli, they’ve got great customer service!
As we were drinking our way around the room, we noticed another huge hall in back. We were feeling good, definitely got our money’s worth, but might as well have a peek. That’s when we realized we had just scratched the surface of the whole event. The front room was for all food and drink vendors but the back room was where the official Makgeolli Expo was happening. No more time wasted wandering past people selling desiccated plant foods and vitamin supplements – this was wall to wall makgeolli.
I didn’t count but there must have been at least thirty brewers from every region in Korea. In case you wanted to buy makgeolli without having to visit each individual booth, the convention set up nine or ten glass-door fridges so you could just pick out whatever you like and pay for it right there.
The reps at each booth were extremely generous and helpful and almost everyone spoke English. I really appreciated the fact that they were happy to chat us up even if we didn’t buy anything. In fact, some of them just gave us bottles for free anyway.
All in all, it was a really great day and I will definitely be going back next year.
LOCATION: COEX Convention Center, Hall C
SUBWAY: Samseong Station
TIME: November 12 – 15, 2014