Makgeolli. The lesser known cousin of soju. Makgeolli is a creamy spirit made from rice. A boozy ice cream that’s melted, a vanilla eggnog, if you will.
I remember my first night with makgeolli. It was at a small Korean pancake house, one of the traditional things you eat when you drink makgeolli. Though on that occasion, we poured “cider” (uncola, basically Sprite) to make it more bubbly. To this day, it’s the worst hangover I’ve ever had.
I’ve come to appreciate it more over the years, even if it’s not something I drink regularly. It’s best enjoyed in a dingy and dark restaurant with some kimchi stew on a cold night, drunk out of metal bowls and served in a metal pot. That is the makgeolli way.
In fact, one of my favorite meals ever in Korea was at a makgeolli restaurant in Jeonju, an older and more traditional city. With a pot of makgeolli and four monstrous side dishes, it was a deeply satisfying meal (all for less than $20, no less).
This was my first formal introduction to makgeolli, and it was wonderful to get an overview of traditional Korean alcohols. My experience confirmed I don’t really like the traditional clear alcohols. That soju (in the green vase), though, was pretty great. A lot of flavor that you don’t get in the cheap everyday stuff.
The food was also delicious. I have a lot of footage of me cramming my face. God, what an eyesore.
In a perfect world, I’d have a broken down list of everything I drank with tasting notes.
This isn’t a perfect world.
My recommendation: Start with the cloudy stuff. The higher end stuff is definitely worth trying. For my part, the next time I’m able to get premium, naturally flavored soju I’m going to snatch it up.
A big thanks to Gastro Tour Seoul, Susubori Academy, and Dan McLaughlin for the hospitality!