The Resurrection of Magkeolli

Last Sunday, I wrote about our Easter trip to the capital of South Korea, Seoul. During our travels, we stumbled on a traditional Korean drink that really tickled our fancy – Makgeolli. Makgeolli is a Korean alcoholic beverage made from rice. Its a kind of rice wine, like Soju, but low in alcohol (from six to nine percent). Makgeolli is milky, creamy, and lightly sparkling with a some viscosity. The taste can be sweet or slightly bitter, and and the texture chalky with sediment that gives a cloudy look. Magkeolli is considered a happy communal drink, and due to its history as the “farmers” wine, it has been mostly unpopular since the 80’s. But recently the 2000 year old drink has been resurrected as young korean’s prefer low alcohol and healthier beverages. Makgeolli is made with rice, water, and a yeast-containing dried wheat mixture called nuruk. One of the reasons for its popularity is its relative simplicity to make, the fermentation takes just a few days before the Magkeolli is ready for sipping. Magkeolli is widely available in stores in South-Korea and some restaurants are starting to make their own fresh Magkeolli. Chefs have noted that the acidity and slight carbonation pair very well with the spicy, sweet, and sour flavors of Korean cuisine. Some mixologists even blend the milky beverage into cocktails as a substitute for egg whites (must try this). Looking at the instructions, it looks easy enough for even us to make our own Makgeolli, nuruk is available for purchase in Sweden via the web. Soiles Craft Magkeolli – has a nice ring to it.

Where can you drink Magkeolli then? In Seoul, we checked out two places: Mukjeon and Mr. Ahns, but there is a long list of prominen craft Magkeolli bars around town. Here is a link to anrticle that seems to have captured the cream of Magkeolli in a top-ten list (Ican only guarantee 1 and 3). Mukjeon is a restaurant in Gangnam that make their own Magkeolli. They have different flavors, like strawberry, birch and chestnut, as well as their plain house Magkeolli. The Magkeolli is served cold from copper teacans, and drank from small bowls. Pair the Magkeolli with some dumplings and you have a perfect combination of Korean tastes.

Mr Ahn’s is located in the backstreets of Itaewon. Its a quiet little place with a comprehensive list of craft Magkeollis, made only with natural ingredients (the staff were very dismissive of some of the Magkeollis we had read about as they used sweeteners like Aspartam). Mr Ahns has a wide selection of Magkeollis from sweet to dry and from thin to thick. Even though we could not read the menu (as it was only in Korean), we could see from the picture where the bottles of Magkiolli were on a matrix.

I also googled a bit to see if Magkeolli is available somewhere in Stockholm, and found a restaurant called Nam Kang close to Stureplan. It seems like this is the only restaurant in town with the Korean rice wine on it’s list, so I think we have to go and try it.

After being so happy about tasting Magkeolli’s, we headed to the shops to buy some to take home. The safest choice (and recommendation by Mr Ahns), were the bid department stores in Myeong-Dong: Shinshegae and Lotte. Both had a small Magkeolli section in their bottom floor food market. We were able to find a few bottles that could make the trip home. Surprisingly Magkeolli comes often in plastic bottless, and we were instructed that the cheaper bottles could not take the pressure changes of a flight home. One of the real gems worth mentioning is Boksoon, which is referred to as the champagne of  Magkeolli. Its a bit frizzy though, so we had to let out the pressure before the flight, meaning that the Magkeolli had to be consumed within two weeks of our trip. That was not hard, and all of our bottles survived the 14 hour travel home. Magkeolli is not very expensive. Even the premium bottles we purchased were just around seven to ten euros. So this is an obsession that will not take you to bankruptcy.

So thats it for my new obsession. Lets see how easy it will be to replenish the stocks. I suspect we will be keeping an eye out in London for some Magkeolli, and if the longing becomes to tough, we just need to book another trip to Korea (or become the first Magkeolli importer in Sweden).

xx Soile

Flavored Magkeolli at Mr. Ahns
A sour beer-like Magkeolli at Mr Ahn’s
Magkeolli is served in small bowls
Late night dumplings and Magkeolli at Mukjeon in Gangnam
Mukjeon makes their on fresh Magkeolli
These two bottles we brought home
Baksoon Magkeolli is called the champagne of Korean wine


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