For presenting itself as blue collar, beer can be awfully snobby. Sure, beer can be your average pilsner or lager, but look at all the ways it shows off: porters, IPAs, imperial IPAs, dubbels, tripels, bocks, saisons, sessions, sours, stouts, weizens, dunkelweizens… All right, already. We get it, beer!
Well, wonju is no slouch either. There are a ton of recipes beyond your simple danyangjus, delicious hwanggeumjus, and funky fruit infusions, and I decided I needed to explore more but I needed a recipe book. Fortunately, Kyobo Bookstore had about a dozen or so to choose from and I settled on 우리 쌀로 빚는 전통주 이야기 by Ryu GyuHyeong (류규형). The title might be translated to something like The Story of Traditional Alcohol Brewed from Our Rice.
On a side note, if you’ve ever wandered around a Korean street, you’ll notice a parade of businesses called Story of BlahBlahBlah or YaddaYaddaYadda Story. It’s weird. Here’s proof:
Anyway, back to The Story of Traditional Alcohol Brewed from Our Rice (TSOTABFOR). Obviously everything in the book is in Korean, which means I either have to rely on the internet or translation help from my professional translator. But, barring this small hurdle, I was ready for my first challenge: Cheongmyeongju (청명주).
According to TSOTABFOR:
“Cheongmyeong refers to a period in the 24-month calendar of Korea’s yesteryear when the weather warms and the skies clear. Koreans used to use Cheongmyeongju for Hansik—one of the four main ancestral holidays along with Seolnal, Chuseok, and Dano—but it was also a common tipple for farmers.” Ryu also wants to make sure it is clear that Cheongmyeongju is Intangible Cultural Treasure Number 2 in North Cheungcheong Province.
So, what separates your Cheongmyeongjus from your average Danyangjus? First off, Cheongmyeongju (CMJ) is an iyangju, which means it’s a two-step fermentation process. However, this one was different from any other iyangju I’ve made in the past for a few reasons:
- The mitsul (밑술), or primary fermentation, is made with glutinous rice, nuruk, water, and a new ingredient for me: wheat flour. I’m not 100% sure how this affects the brew but I think I remember hearing that it reduces the chances of your brew going south. If you’re buying this in Korea, you’ll see several different options in your local market. Get the wheat flour that says “박력 밀가루”. This type of wheat flour is for, among other things, brewing.
- According to my recipe, the deotsul rice needs to soak. For three days! This should be done while the mitsul is fermenting. (More on this later!)
- For most brews, you add the deotsul (덧술), or secondary fermentation, directly into the mitsul. Not so for CMJ. First, you strain the mitsul until you’re left with only the wonju. Add the mitsul wonju into your deotsul.
Here are the proportional measurements. You can adjust these with a bit o’ math to fit your brewing vessel:
|100g glutinous rice (mitsul)||100g ground nuruk (mitsul)|
|40mL water (mitsul)||30g ground wheat flour (mitsul)|
|1080g glutinous rice (deotsul)|
Primary Fermentation, or Mitsul (밑술):
- Wash glutinous rice for the deotsul and soak it for three days.
- Wash glutinous rice for the mitsul and soak for three hours.
- Grind the rice and sift it.
- Add water to the sifted rice and bring it to a simmer, continuously stirring. When the texture is smooth, you have made jook (죽), or porridge.
- Let the jook cool.
- Add ground nuruk and ground wheat flour, and mix well.
- The mitsul will be done in approximately three days.
Secondary Fermentation, or Deotsul (덧술):
- Drain the rice that has been soaking for three days, and steam the rice.
- Strain the mitsul and separate into takju and cheongju.
- Add the takju to the steamed rice and mix. Then, add the cheongju to the steamed rice and takju mixture.
There were a few odd things that happened while brewing and—spoiler alert!—the CMJ was a slightly mitigated failure.
First off, it seemed odd that I should soak the deotsul rice for so long. (I had forgotten this at the time but, from my classes, I learned not to soak the rice longer than 12 hours. Any longer than that and you risk spoiling the rice.) Regardless, I wanted to be faithful to the recipe so I soaked the rice for the suggested three days, covering it in saran wrap to keep dust out. But, when I took the wrap off after three days—whew! There was some kind of funk going on but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I realized it smelled just like cheese. Yep: gross. I decided to rinse the hell out of it and that helped with the funk but not completely. And it came back full force when I steamed it. Anyway, if I were to follow this recipe again, I would replace the water every 12 hours and give the rice a bit of a stir.
After that trauma had passed, I moved on to straining the wonju from the mitsul and adding it to my cheesy steamed rice. The wonju did its thing and the next day the deotsul was like paste. I had to use a plastic glove to mix it up.
After about a week, I realized the bubbling had stopped and it didn’t seem that the deotsul rice was breaking down any further. I let it go two more days until I admitted to myself that the brew had stalled. Not knowing what to do and my attempts to get advice failing, I decided to dump in 200g of nuruk in a last ditch effort to get the CMJ reactivated.
The next day, the brew was back to bubbling.
By day 20, I didn’t hear anymore bubbling and the brew passed the match test so it was time to strain. This was really hard going. It turns out a lot of grains of rice had yet to be broken down so I had to contend with more jiggemi (찌게미), or brewing lees, than ever. This meant that I ended up with relatively little wonju.
Moreover, the wonju never really separated into takju and cheongju. Instead, I got a very thick, viscous wonju. But it wasn’t awful. The alcohol percentage was certainly low: maybe around 5% or so. And it was incredibly sweet, like makgeolli cotton candy. Considering the trials this booze went through, I was happy I had avoided disaster. Yet, on the other hand, I don’t think I can say I truly made Cheongmyeongju.
Sorry, North Chungcheong Province Intangible Cultural Treasure No. 2.
Extra Nuruk: 4.23.16
Total: 20 days
· 370g chapssal
· 370g nuruk
· 111g wheat flour
· 1g yeast
· 1480ml water
· 4000g chapssal
|Amount Produced:||· 3.5 L approx.|
|Notes:||· Making Day: Activated nuruk (7:40 pm)
o 400 ml + 1 g yeast + 370 g nuruk
o Added juk to nuruk and wheat flour (10:48)
· Day 3: The mitsul was bubbling a fair bit today. Meanwhile, the chapssal that has been soaking the last three days had a funny odor. I later realized that it smelled like cheese. As far as the deotsul process, the book where I got the recipe is not that clear on the process. It said something to the effect of “separate the brew into the takju and cheongju. After you’ve made your deotsul, mix the takju with the godubap and then mix the cheongju with the godubap.” So, was I supposed to filter the mitsul? Not sure but that’s what I did. After letting it sit for over 3 hours, I still didn’t have much separation of cheongju and takju but I did the best I could, adding the takju to the cheese godubap first and then adding the cheongju. This could well be a slightly expensive mistake and a very labor intensive waste.
· Day 4: Tried to give things a stir and the rice might as well be glue. I wasted a decent amount just on what got stuck to my hands. Smelled it in the pm and it definitely has an off scent—something I’ve never smelled before. Keeping my fingers crossed that this is all part of the process.
· Day 8: Noticed a decent amount of liquid had formed in the hangari. The “cheese” smell still exists but it seems fainter. Or, the booze smells stronger. One of the two.
· Day 14: On about Day 12, I failed to hear any more bubbling so I tried the match test. Flame was not extinguished but the brew was far from ready as the mixture was mushy but the grains were still fairly whole. I sought some help from other brewers but to no avail. As a last ditch effort, I decided to add 200 g of nuruk into the batch, despite the fact this was not called for in the recipe.
· Day 15: Woke up and brew was bubbling away. Good deal!
· Day 20: No more bubbling. The match flame is not extinguishing so time to filter.
|Results:||· Very sweet. A lot of sediment but this could be from using the sifter when filtering. Even after two days in the fridge, no cheongju. Felt like most of the rice was not converted as I had an extreme amount of chigemi left over.
· Considering all the issues I had with this brew, it came out better than expected. Very sweet and not that boozy but still delicious.
|Thick, all takju||Not boozy at all; sugary – a bit like cotton candy; not sour or nuruky like other homemade brews||Very thick and full of sediment (see results section above); not granular – almost closer to pulpy but not in an unpleasant way||Sweet and low alcohol content; despite low alcohol, it still tastes rich and velvety||Smooth and nothing but sugar|