Last year, COEX’s Food Week Korea featured something I called the Makgeolli Expo but may have actually been Korean Traditional Liquor Grand Festival. Either way, it was really, truly awesome – just check the review! If you weren’t in attendance at last year’s event, it is difficult to do justice to how exceptional it was. Loads of brewers packed into one room with a whole section that was fridge after fridge of makgeolli available for purchase.
After the letdown that was this year’s Daehanmingook Makgeolli Festival, I was waiting for the Food Week convention with baited breath. I pre-registered to avoid paying the ₩10,000 ticket price, readied a bag with an ice pack for purchases, and grabbed a couple of bottles of water to keep me and my fellow adventurers hydrated. In short, I was much more prepared for this year’s booze odyssey. And it was all for naught.
Like last year, the giant front room was sprinkled with a handful of booths plying soju, yakju, and even makgeolli, but we knew to go to the backroom for the real deal. But there was nothing there—at least no makgeolli. Instead, it was just international food vendors giving out samples of underwhelming sake. We glumly returned to the front room and sought out the tables we had passed earlier.
All in all, there were a few brewers with some notable offers.
Probably the best find was Jangheui Doga (장희도가). Their Sejong Daewang Eoju makgeolli as well as their yakju were new to me and tasted excellent. (Not sure where you can find their bottles in Seoul but you can try contacting Jang Jeong-soo, the master brewer via his site.)
The Jeollanam-do table featured a few interesting bottles but the best by a long shot was perennial favorite Jaheehyang (자희향). I haven’t talked about this brewery yet but look for a review coming soon. Suffice it to say, they make some very nice makgeolli and cheongju.
The only other real curiosity I came across was a Jeju-do yakju with the unlikely name Noggo’s Tears (녹고의 눈물). The name, I found out later, comes from a tragic Jeju legend. Noggo’s Tears gets its unique taste from an infusion with a root called Acanthopanax koreanum. I wouldn’t rush out to get this one but it’s interesting enough to try if you get the chance. Just to give you some perspective, one of my classmates at Susubori described it, if I recall correctly, with the words “horse saddle”. So, take my lukewarm recommendation with caution!
MAKGEOLLI OR BUST!
So, why was the event such a let down? I can only speculate. First off, with last year’s Insadong Makgeolli Festival being repackaged into the weekend-long October Makgeolli Festival on Jarasum Island, more vendors were probably more invested in making a strong appearance there. And, if you’re a vendor, and you had to choose one, being a participating vendor at a makgeolli festival suits your interests better than having a booth at a food convention. Secondly, a couple days before the festival I learned that there would be a makgeolli competition at KINTEX convention center in Ilsan. On the same weekend… KINTEX no doubt pulled the rug out from under COEX as I heard the Ilsan convention was well attended by influential breweries. A shame—I went to the wrong party.