It’s the most wonderful time of the year! For some that’s Christmas, but for makgeolli lovers (at least those in the northern hemisphere) the temperatures are cooling, making for better brewing conditions, and makgeolli festivals abound. These days, it seems there may not be an event in the land that can compare to the spectacle of the Jarasum Makgeolli Festival.
This part of Gyeonggi-do offers idyllic vistas in every direction: majestic hills perched behind streams that meander to-and-fro and grassy banks that look perfect for a nice nap or a spot where you can dreamily gaze at billowing clouds. It’s the part of Korea you forget about, especially if you’re living in the world of subway platforms and high-rises that is Seoul.
The Jarasum festival grounds itself can hold multiple festivals and indeed did. Apparently, far off next to the campgrounds, the annual beef butcher festival (or something of that ilk) was taking place while people made their way from booth to booth, sipping their tiny paper cups of makgeolli.
And what makgeolli and sool there was to try! All the best breweries were present and mostly all within a short walking distance of each other.
Ye-sul (옉술) was on hand, doling out samples of Mangang-e Bichin Dal (만강에 비친 달) and Hongcheon Gang Takju (홍천강탁주). I haven’t reviewed any of their brews and that is a glaring error on my part! Get your hands on anything Ye-sul makes. My recommendation would be to try their Mangang-e Bichin Dal; just be aware that it is infused with pumpkin.
A few booths down was crowd-pleaser Sulseam (술샘) sharing their booth with Soolawon (술아원). On one end, a visitor could try Sulseam’s Miru Soju, Ihwaju (formerly known as Baekseolgongju), and their red nuruk Soolchuihan Wonsoongi (which translates as “Drunk Monkey”). On the other side, Soolawon had a couple of their flavored gwahajus out as well as their new makgeolli called, I believe, 100% Handmade. It comes in a cylindrical bottle reminiscent of Voss Water.
Rounding out this side of the booths was the brewery that may very well be my favorite in all of Korea: Midam (미담). They spent most of the festival being overwhelmed by festival-goers looking to get a cup or three of Midam’s sool ambrosia. But even if you had to wait a bit, it was worth it. Now I know there’s no Takjoo Journals review of any of their bottles but I intend to fix that soon: I ended up getting a bottle of the classic Midam Seoktanju to go.
The other side of the festival featured three other breweries of interest. Song Myeong Seob’s Taein Brewery (태인 양조장) had a booth but, unfortunately, the master had decided to attend the Ilsan Makgeolli Festival. And, despite having bottles of his Daenamuju (bamboo-infused sool), tastings were not available. Pocheon Ildong Makgeolli (포천 일동) had a booth promoting their new Dameun 750 (담은 750). As far as I can tell, it’s a brew following in the footsteps of Neurin Maeul: sweet, creamy, and all-natural. The last stop on my brewery tour was Joeunsul (좋은술), the makers of Cheonbihyang (천비향). I was glad I made a cursory stop as I first entered the festival grounds at noon because their booth was empty by 2 pm. For that brief but beautiful window of time, you could try Cheonbihyang Saengju, Yakju, Soju, and two new flavored brews.
Of course, it wasn’t all roses and hand-crafted sool. The festival grounds seemed unnecessarily spread out for the number of people I saw at the festival. I suppose on the flip side, it made it possible for you to stretch out on the grass or grab a table and really spread out in comfort. My second issue was that about half the booths were for breweries that still use aspartame and other chemicals in their bottles. I can’t abide by them but, if their participation keeps the festival going, I guess I shouldn’t winge. Finally, the live performances were fun but a little too loud in my opinion. I’m getting old.
All in all, this was a fantastic festival and well-worth attending. If you can make a weekend out of it and pitch a tent in the campgrounds or stay in nearby Gapyeong, it’d be even better. As it was, I had only a couple hours to make the rounds of the different booths and snap a few pics and I was still really glad I could make it out. Keep an eye out for this festival next year!