The Hankyoreh recently published an article chock-full of insightful comments about the troubling state of commercial makgeolli brewing. Many heavy-hitting professionals within the industry were sought for their opinions. These professionals include Nam Do-hee, director of the Korean Makgeolli Association; Cho Hyo-jin, head professor at Susubori Academy; Hur Shi-myung, “principal” of the Makgeolli Hakkyo joomak; Shin Mi-hwa, department head of Takyakju Central Association; Bae Young-ho, CEO of Baesangmyeon Brewery; and more.
The three changes that commercial makgeolli brewers must make are as follows:
- Use domestic rice, not imported rice.
- Stop using aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.
- Switch from plastic bottles to glass bottles.
At the heart of all these changes is a necessary increase in the price of makgeolli. The average bottle of makgeolli purchased in a supermarket or convenience store costs between ₩1,000 and ₩2,500. According to the article, switching from plastic bottles to glass bottles would raise the price to ₩3,000.
In my opinion, the industry as a whole must, at the very least, stop using aspartame and all the other awful artificial sweeteners. If this change alone was effected, I wouldn’t mind paying ₩5,000 to ₩10,000 per bottle. And I think many consumers would feel the same.
This is a must read!
From Kim Kyu-won’s article at The Hankyoreh:
‘…while there are 900 manufacturers listed nationwide and makgeolli has great growth potential with sales making up 5-6 percent of the entire alcohol market, the makgeolli market is shrinking. Furthermore, during the last few years with foreign wine and beer flooding into South Korea, the ground for makgeolli to develop has been undermined by the craft beer explosion.
Brewing specialists say that makgeolli made by contemporary methods has reached its growth limit. They advise that if makgeolli is going to break free from its post-2011 stagnancy, three obstacles must be overcome: the use of imported rice, the use of aspartame and other sweeteners, and the use of plastic bottles. The way to simply resolve these three problems is to raise the price of makgeolli.”
Domestic Rice vs. Imported Rice
…Experts pointed out that the uniqueness and locality of makgeolli’s ingredients are essential elements if the drink is to receive positive attention. Hur Shi-myung, principal of the Makgeolli School, said that, “French Bordeaux wine must use Bordeaux grapes. Japanese sake must use Japanese rice. It is difficult to make an identity or style for a makgeolli made with imported rice.”
…Even though it may not be toxic, some argue that that aspartame erases the individuality of various makgeollis during production. Aspartame makes makgeollis all taste the same. …Cho Hyo-jin, head professor at Susubori Academy, said, “Aspartame is the only option if you want to make a quick, sweet makgeolli using cheap imported rice. By using lots of good rice and slowly fermenting, it is possible to make makgeolli sweet without using aspartame.” Makgeollis that don’t use sweeteners are very rare.
Plastic Bottles vs. Glass Bottles
…Plastic bottles receive low marks due to their health and environmental impact, and their “dignity.” The design of the plastic makgeolli bottle has secured its universality, but the quality of the plastic and the excessive container size (750 ml) still cause controversy. The reason for using plastic bottles is to minimize costs. According to the Korea Takyakju Production Association, the cost of a 750 ml plastic bottle is 125 won ($0.11), while a smaller, 500 ml glass bottle costs 750 won ($0.69), 6 times as much.’