How to Make Makgeolli

The idea of home brewing your own rice wine at home can seem intimidating, but I've found that makgeolli is surprisingly easy to make so long as you follow a few important steps, have patience and give it some TLC (I admit I serenaded mine) about twice a day for a week.

For those of you who do not know what makgeolli is, it is a Korean style unfiltered rice wine, made with rice, nuruk (a Korean fermentation starter typically made from wheat), water and sometimes yeast. Makgeolli's flavor is considered to be slightly tangy (like yogurt), somewhat sweet, floral, faintly effervescent.

There are, of course, different variations of makgeolli recipes. The most common variation is the use of sweet rice versus plain short grain rice. I used sweet rice in this recipe because after some research, I found out that the use of sweet rice produces a more rustic yet well-rounded, deep and "milkier" mouthfeel. I prefer this over the tangier, poppier and lighter type of makgeolli made from regular short grain rice. 

Makgeolli has become super popular recently and it's easy to find in Korean markets bottled up in plastic bottles. It's cheap too, about 5 dollars a pop. Once considered to be a farmer's spirit of choice and less glamorized for its more rustic beginnings, now makgeolli is a common celebratory drink at a dinner outing with both young and older Koreans. Have you seen Keith Ape  swag and swig it out in his viral MV like a a bottle of Henney or Colt 45? Pretty dope.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of chapssal (usually labeled as sweet rice or glutinous rice)
  • 4 cups nuruk (16 oz.)
  • One 1/4 oz.package of active dry yeast
  • 7.5 cups tepid spring water
  • 3 cups spring water (add after makgeolli is completed brewing)

You'll also need:

  • A glass or earthenware jar large enough to hold at least one gallon
  • large steamer (I used a bamboo steamer)
  • lots of fine mesh cloth or cheese cloth
  • kitchen twine or large rubber band to secure mesh covering to top of jar
  • mesh strainer
  • long wooden spoon
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Few Ingredients

But lots of patience required!

Wash your rice. Wash it with care. Wash it well. When I wash my rice I gently rotate my hand, clockwise, around the rice in cold running water. Drain. Repeat until water runs nearly clear. 

Soak the rice overnight or for at least 4 hours in cool water. Before steaming, drain water from rice in a fine mesh strainer. Prepare your steamer. Place a dampened cheese cloth over the bottom of your steamer basket and lay out rice evenly. It is important to use a steamer large enough evenly distribute the rice so that it is about only 2 inches tall, max.

Steam rice, covered, over gently boiling water for 45 minutes or until the rice is al dente (Koreans call this godubap, or about 80% cooked rice).

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Ensure even steaming.

Make sure enough heat can cook to the top of your rice too.

Once the rice has cooked through, immediately transfer rice to a large non-stick surface (I used a plastic wrapped covered cookie sheet) and spread out thinly and evenly. This is so that the rice can cool and dry out a bit. I've seen some people dry it to a crisp (putting in oven or dehydrators). I don't find this necessary. I dried out my rice for a couple of hours outside, just enough so the the rice was hard on the edges but still somewhat moist in the center.

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Important step!

Make sure to cool out and dry out your rice.

In the meantime sanitize your fermenting jar. I simply sanitized my glass jar with boiling hot water.  Let jar cool down. In a large bowl combine rice, nuruk and 2 cups of water (or enough until mixture is just moistened) and mix well with hands, breaking up any large pieces of nuruk.

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Nuruk.

Sold in Korean or Asian markets, but also easily found online.

 

Do not be rough during this process. You do not want the rice grains to break. Just mix until well incorporated and large pieces of nuruk are broken down. Mixture will resemble an oatmeal porridge.

Transfer mixture to fermenting vessel. Stir in yeast. Add in remaining water and stir well. Cover jar with a fine mesh cloth, securing it around the lid with twine or a rubber band. Do not close tightly with a regular lid. In order for fermentation to properly occur, the mixture needs to breath. Store jar in a dark and warm area (ideal temperature will be between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit). 

After a day check back on your baby makgeolli. It should look alive and bloated. There will be visible bubbling in the jar and crackling noises too. This is a good sign. This means fermentation has begun! With a sanitized wooden spoon stir the mixture well. Cover and return to storage area again.

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Magic in the works.

 

 

Makgeolli in the early stages is very active and fermentation should be apparent.

From here, check on your makgeolli twice a day and stir well. Repeat this everyday for approximately a week. As the days go by fermentation activity will lessen and eventually there will be little to no more bubbling action in the jar when the makgeolli is finished. See below for a visual timeline throughout the week.

My makgeolli was complete by the 7th day (sounds so epic). No more bubbles were popping and all the rice floated to the bottom. When I stirred the rice, much of the rice disintegrated and there was a distinct amber layer of liquid (aka cheongju) on the top layer. I also determined completion by simply smelling and tasting. If your senses tell you it's ready, go for it.

Time to bottle!

Congratulations! Your makgeolli baby is now ready to be bottled. Also, this baby is quite strong tasting as a lot of the water may have evaporated during fermentation and now the alcohol should now be about 12 to 16 percent. Boozy!

Place a large mesh strainer over a bowl large enough to hold your makgeolli. Do not use *too* fine of a mesh as it will be very difficult to filter. Plus, it's quite characteristic to have that cloudy and rustic look so ultra filtering is not necessary. Stirring a spoon around in the mixture while straining will speed up the filtering. Press out all the precious liquid and discard the remaining rice and nuruk.

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Strain well.

Squeeze out all the fruits of your labor!

Strain twice, discarding any sediment at the bottom of the bowl.

To achieve a well-balanced flavor you will need to add additional water. at the end. I added an additional 3 cups of water to my brew and it tasted just right. Some people add sugar at the end as well, which is acceptable but absolutely optional. I added about 1/8 cup of sugar to mine.

Finally, prepare a clean bottle (I re-used large Korean soda bottles) and bottled my makgeolli using a funnel. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Tilt bottle side to side to mix before serving, as there is settling. Serve chilled.

End result:

  • Color - creamy almond beige
  • Carbonation - slightly carbonated
  • Aroma - Floral (rose), sweet, bready, grassy
  • Flavor - bold but smooth, woodsy, slightly yogurt-tangy

 

 KEith Ape reppin' next to some makgeolli (Image  source )

KEith Ape reppin' next to some makgeolli (Image source)