A Look Back & a Look Forward into the World of Makgeolli

While Takjoo Journals was on hiatus for vacation, a whole batch of brew news bubbled up. So over the next few days, the site will be indulging in the glut of stories we missed.

And there’s probably nowhere better to start than Julia Mellor’s article for the Korea Times where she tackles Gauguin’s (slightly paraphrased) question: Where Does Makgeolli Come From? What Is Makgeolli? Where Is Makgeolli Going? From the article:

“The Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) could be loosely compared to the era of Prohibition, in that brewing alcohol publicly was illegal unless permitted by the king. As history has taught us, banning alcohol only makes people more creative, and brewing makgeolli therefore became something of a household staple. Just as families had their trusted kimchi, gochujang and doenjang recipes, so too did they have their own traditional alcohol recipes.

The end of the Joseon Kingdom was punctuated by the Japanese occupation (1910-45), which was a turning point for traditional Korean alcohol. Home brewing was promptly outlawed, and whilst the first commercial breweries were established, brewers were ordered to use the Japanese yeast starter koji rather than Korean nuruk. This marked a severe disconnect, resulting in the loss of home recipes across the peninsula that had been passed down the generations orally.

What followed was a century of struggle. Following the Korean War, a rice-brewing ban was put in place due to a food shortage, forcing brewers to use alternative starches to produce their products. The unreliability of ingredients, cold chain storage issues and satisfying a consumer base increasingly reliant on artificial sweeteners set the stage for what we know to be makgeolli today.

Fast forward to now, and we have a very different scene. Not only do we have a much improved cold chain storage, but brewers are free to use rice and experiment however they choose. Brewers of traditional Korean alcohols are reawakening lost traditions, discovering new recipes and methods to produce makgeolli, cheongju (also referred to as yakju) and soju. Small-batch artisan brewers are focusing on the quality of ingredients, learning the various techniques and experimenting with intuition.

So where do they get their knowledge? In that oh-so-Korean way, there are a number of brewing academies across Seoul that have their own teaching style and focus on certain aspects of the industry. People are learning the skills and dedicating their time to practicing and developing their own particular brewing styles. These academies are instrumental in inspiring not just future brewery owners, but home brewers that become messengers to friends, family and beyond.”

Read the whole article at the Korea Times here.

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One thought on “A Look Back & a Look Forward into the World of Makgeolli

  1. Pingback: Takjoo Journals’ Second Anniversary | takjoo journals

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