Searching for “Pure” Makgeolli

What’s in The Hankyoreh’s lengthy article entitled Searching for “Pure” Makgeolli? A little bit of everything, it turns out.

It starts with a description of Jipyeong Brewery—a fan favorite as it has been around since 1910 and even achieved the appellation of Cultural Artifact No. 594. But then the article digresses into a discussion of Germany’s beer purity law, which is necessary for the segue into Korea’s potential proposal for a makgeolli purity law. From Park Ki-yong’s article:

At the end of last year, with the 500th anniversary of Germany’s beer purity law on the horizon, South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced that it would be implementing a makgeolli purity law. Drawing inspiration from the beer purity law, the plan was to limit government quality certification to makgeolli that was brewed only with domestic rice, fermenting agents and water.

Thus far, the Ministry has provided quality certification even to varieties of makgeolli that contain wheat, sugar or various other food additives. But if the makgeolli purity law took effect, it would mean that any makgeolli that did not meet these requirements would not be able to receive quality certification. This would allow customers to choose between makgeolli that has been certified by the government for quality and makgeolli that has not…

However, there are also concerns that such a measure could wipe out makgeolli’s diversity.Even in Germany, it is acknowledged that diverse flavors of beer disappeared after the enactment of the beer purity law. While a variety of additives were used to improve beer’s flavor in countries such as the US, the UK and Belgium, German beer is comparatively plain. And with the expansion of the craft beer market, the beer purity law could already be in trouble.

The Ministry seems to be acting with caution. “At first, we were planning to implement the makgeolli purity law in the first half of this year. But since some people thought that certification categories are needed not just for makgeolli but also for other kinds of traditional alcohol, we’re currently soliciting views from a wide variety of industry representatives and reviewing what the ramifications might be,” said In So-yeong, a Ministry official in the food industry promotion division. “We also think that positive consideration should be given to the question of permitting fruit and other natural ingredients,” said In…

Half of these breweries are small businesses with less than 100 million won (US$86,700) in yearly sales. Since makgeolli has a short shelf life, brewers have no choice but to rely on the local market. As time goes by, the gap is widening between breweries based in Seoul and other big cities and those in more rural areas.

“Breweries in the countryside get their revenue from the local market, which makes them particularly sensitive to prices. The Agriculture Ministry wants them to use locally grown rice, but if the wholesale price suddenly spikes, retailers will riot. That’s how hard it is to break out of small-scale brewing,” said Lee Su-jin, president of Sulfun, an online platform for marketing traditional alcohol.

“Down the road, the makgeolli market will no doubt move toward premium quality, but for brewers to develop new products, there needs to be some kind of standard, such as building joint brands and finding joint outlets for sales. Now is not the time to force makgeolli into a regulation straitjacket,” Lee said.

There are others who argue that a makgeolli purity law could be taken as an opportunity to create keywords that would illustrate makgeolli’s distinctive qualities and diversity. Instead of product names, the idea is to institute a kind of ranking system that would enable customers to easily identify ingredients and quality, just as with wine or sake in Japan…

It will also be interesting to see how the newly established license for small-scale makgeolli, yakju, and cheongju producers will affect the traditional alcohol market. In February, the government revised the enforcement decree of the Liquor Tax Act, lowering the minimum production capacity for traditional alcohol licensing from 5 kl to 1 kl. This makes it possible for restaurants to sell craft makgeolli they have made themselves on premises.

Read the whole Hankyoreh article here.

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One thought on “Searching for “Pure” Makgeolli

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

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