KOREAN NAME: 천비향 막걸리
REVIEW: When I talk to other people in the makgeolli community, Joeunsul Brewery’s name is treated as sacrosanct, their brews pressed into the hands of neophytes as if they were being inducted into a clandestine order. Indeed, to borrow a quote from the inimitable Chicago surgeon Max Thorek, “Fashionable dinner parties and cracker barrel confabs, as well as sedate gatherings of the sool élite, were alive with the whisper – Joeunsul.”
I’m going to be the dissenting voice and say that I like Joeunsul’s offerings just fine but I am certainly not over the moon the way most are. Their Cheonbihyang Saengju is a curiosity as it is one of the few (if not the only?) oyangju, or five-step fermentation, commercially available. Boozy, sugary, playful—it’s a tipple you sip and enjoy leisurely like a nice port or maybe a snifter of Grand Marnier.
Cheonbihyang Makgeolli, on the other hand, is on the other end of the scale. There’s nothing particularly remarkable here but there is certainly nothing wrong either. If ever there were a bottle I did not feel awkward about giving a 4 out of 7 to, it’s Cheonbihyang Makgeolli. Its thin body and inoffensive, easy-to-drink flavor make it a perfect choice for introducing makgeolli to first-timers. The fact that its ABV is 10% adds a slight punch to the body giving it a bit more character, but it is ultimately not that different in complexity when compared to your typical 6% bottle.
If you’re looking for a comparison, it me a bit of Neurin Maeul’s Ihwaju, except it is about a third of the price and still comes in a glass bottle.
Appearance: Cloudy, grey, chalky.
Smell: It has a store-bought, pasteurized (even thought it’s not) makgeolli smell—dry, dusty, and faintly vanilla.
BREWERY: Joeunsul (좋은술)
ORIGIN: Gyeonggi-do, Uiwang (경기도, 의왕시)
PURCHASED: 14th Wines & Spirits Expo 2016
AVAILABILITY: It’s been a while since I’ve been to a joomak but I don’t remember seeing this bottle around. It can, however, be purchased from their website for ₩9,000.
ALCOHOL CONTENT: 10%
INGREDIENTS: Korean new rice (42.68%), purified water (54.88%), nuruk (2.44%)
VOLUME: 650 ml
PASTEURIZED: No (30-day shelf life)