Makgeolli is a traditional Korean alcohol made with water and rice that are fermented with nuruk, a starter culture.
Makgeolli is traditionally brewed in the home and being a danyangju, which means liquor that has been fermented only once, it is very simple to make. The drink has a lactic flavour profile, slightly sweet and sour and is best enjoyed chilled with food.
The recipe below for how to make makgeolli is one technique in a plethora of different styles as shared by Julia Mellor, Korean Traditional Alcohol Specialist and Director of Makgeolli Mamas & Papas during her visit to Sydney at the Korean Cultural Centre.
To get started you need two key ingredients: rice and nuruk. Chapssal is the recommended choice for the rice, being a sweet rice, it yields a slightly sweeter brew. Nuruk, the starter culture is difficult to find outside of Korea. We suggest you ask Korean grocery stores and supermarkets if they stock it.
Before trying this recipe, we suggest you become familiar with Korean Traditional Alcohol and the terms used. Please refer to our Essential Guide to Korean Traditional Alcohol.
How to Make Makgeolli
- 300 g of steamed sticky rice (chapssal is a good choice as it feeds the yeast and yields a sweeter brew)
- 300 ml water
- 5 g bio nuruk (or nuruk and a pinch of yeast)
Equipment: large glass jar with lid, funnel, cheese cloth, glass bottle with stopper
1. Wash the rice repeatedly until it’s very clean and the water runs completely clear.
2. Soak the rice in water for a minimum of 2-3 hours then drain for approximately 30 minutes.
3. Steam the rice for 45 minutes then let it cool.
4. Place rice in a glass jar with nuruk and water in a 1:1 ratio. As a general rule, if you have more water it will be more sour. If you have less water, it will be sweeter.
5. Use your hands to mix well well without breaking the rice (see 1st jar). It imparts son mat which literally translates as “hand flavour”. The colour will slightly change as the rice breaks down and turns a little brown (see 2nd jar).
6. Gently press down any stray rice grains on the side of the jar or they will spoil.
7. For the first 2 days, morning and night, take the lid off the jar and give the mash a quick stir by using your hand or a spoon and put the lid back on. The rice will start to disintegrate (see 3rd jar).
8. Leave to ferment for about 7 days at 18-30oC. Note: Fermentation is exothermic so add 5oC to the ambient temperature to get your approximate fermentation temperature. If it’s too hot, put the glass jar in a bucket half filled with water and add ice. The brew is ready when it develops 2 distinct layers: a milky part at the bottom, a clear band of yellow. You may also see a mushy rice cap at the top (see 4th jar).
9. To check if the brew is ready, strike a match and put it over the open jar. If the flame goes out, it means there’s limited CO2 and fermentation is complete. Another way is to put your ear to the brew. If it makes a bubbling noise, fermentation has not completed.
10. To filter the brew, put a cheese cloth over a colander sitting on over a clean bowl. Take the lid off the jar and gently pour out. Squeeze it to get the last few drops then discard the sediment and the cheese cloth. The filtrate will be approximately 80% of the original volume of liquid (450-500 ml of alcohol) with an ABV of 12-13%.
11. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into a glass bottle with stopper and store in the fridge.
How to Drink Makgeolli
1. Drink it as is, chilled or at room temperature.
2. Put it in the fridge and let it settle. You can then drink the cheongju/yakju that forms on the top, ie the yellow liquid.
3. Water it down to make makgeolli by adding 50% water to lower the ABV.
4. If the flavour doesn’t come out as well as expected, you can add honey or syrups.
5. Alternatively, make a fruit infusion. Add fresh fruit to the brew and put it in the fridge for one week then filter it.
Tips for Keeping Makgeolli
Nuruk produces very strong banana flavours so to round it off, leave the brew in the fridge for a month or so to mellow out.
Home brewed makgeolli has a shelf life of up to one year. The flavour will evolve and change but since the alcohol percentage is higher, it will preserve longer.
Enjoy makgeolli at room temperature or chilled but never heated. As the brew is not pasteurised, heat will activate the yeast and spoil the brew.
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