Foods & Culinary

How Korea’s Makgeolli Master Park Bok-soon perfected the fermented rice drink

At the Boxing dog The brewery in South Korea, Makgeolli – an alcoholic fermented rice drink that is milky, bubbly, tangy and sweet – is brewed by hand with a lot of loving care. When the owner Park Bok-soon enters the fermentation room of her brewery, she greets the Onggi pots with a friendly “Hey guys, how are you?” and is answered by the light pitter-crackling of bubbly, fermenting rice. This is just one example of how she treats her product with respect. “Treat even a single grain of rice as precious,” she mumbles as her partner pours the grains into a bowl.

Park starts her day by hand washing local rice 10 times before steaming it al dente. The rice is allowed to cool while it prepares the nuruk or fermentation starter. For the nuruk, wheat flour is fermented for 20 days and pressed tightly into a square that holds them together like a cake. Once the nuruk cake is ready, it goes to a humidity and temperature controlled room where it can bloom and produce the bacteria needed to make makgeolli. “It has a direct impact on the taste,” explains Park. “It is very difficult to get the nuruk to flower, so a lot of people use artificial bacteria.” The starter stays in the nuruk room for 15 days before being mixed with the cooled rice and water. Then the whole mixture is added to enormous Onggi pots and let ferment for 15 to 20 days.

When entering the fermentation room, the sound of rain can be heard on the sidewalk. Except that it’s not raining, but the crackling of rice fermenting and bubbling in the pots. After the 15 to 20-day fermentation has ended, the liquid is sieved from the rice and the rice is used as feed for cows, pigs and chickens. The liquid is then mixed with water, bottled and ready to drink.

“Jan has sake, Europe has wine, but there was no real traditional Korean makgeolli,” says Park. “Makgeolli is made by hand with a lot of love and care so that it is delicious.”

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