What is makgeolli? Classified as a drink halfway between rice wine and rice beer, makgeolli is Korea’s oldest alcoholic beverage. It is an unfiltered alcoholic rice drink that is known to Koreans as a drink of the common people. It is not a drink that we expect to pair with a gourmet Korean meal but it appears that Hana Makgeolli is about to change all that. Housed in a tall clear glass bottle with a beautiful white label, Hana is reminiscent of a fine wine and is in fact perfectly at home on the dining table alongside the fanciest of Korean dinners.
The first thing that struck me when trying Hana Makgeolli was the beauty of the bottle and the cream colored milky drink visible through the glass. Makgeolli has long deserved a place of honor among iconic Korean food and drink but unfortunately this has not been the case and it has for the most part been sold in cheap plastic soda bottles.
The second surprise was the flavor. With a clean flavor balancing sweet and tart, the slightly fizzy texture is a delightful complement to all kinds of Korean food. Since the only kinds of makgeolli that are widely available in the US are very cheap and full of artificial sweeteners and flavors, we were accustomed to an unpleasant aftertaste that followed a sip of the drink, but not so with Hana Makgeolli, which is only made with organic and natural ingredients.
We first tried Hana Makgeolli as part of a dinner package that was shipped to us for a virtual charity gala, and were pleasantly surprised even with the packaging. The packaging feels very protective and high end, making it perfectly suited for nationwide shipping and gifting.
History of Makgeolli
Outside of Korea, makgeolli is not nearly as well known as soju but to Koreans all over the world, it has long been beloved as a drink that reminds us of the old days. It is common to see both restaurants and home consumers serve it in old fashioned kettles and bowls that allow drinkers to fully enjoy the nostalgic experience of drinking makgeolli.
Historical records show that Koreans have been drinking makgeolli from as far back as the Goyreo Dynasty (918-1392 AD) and because of its low alcohol content and refreshing carbonation, it was traditionally served to farmers and laborers during their break from intense labor. Made from rice and containing high levels of lactic acid bacteria and dietary fiber, the drink was also a bit of sustenance in the middle of the workday.
Makgeolli can also be seen as a healthy form of alcohol. Aside from the lactic acid bacteria and fiber, a recent study conducted by the Korea Food Research Institute discovered that it contains squalene, a compound that is believed to prevent the growth of cancer.
Up until 1988, makgeolli was the undisputed national drink of Korea, dominating the alcohol industry by 80%. But as the Korean society became increasingly more westernized, people’s preference for alcohol changed and by the late nineties, makgeolli consumption had plummeted to unprecedented levels. A decade later, it made an unexpected comeback thanks to the emergence of boutique brands and clever marketing schemes that appealed to the younger generation. Millennials loved the authenticity and history of the drink and wholly embraced it as a new favorite sool, the Korean word for alcohol.
Thankfully the trend is finally making its way to the US and we can enjoy Hana Makgeolli at home thanks to their overnight shipping service. Hana Makgeolli currently produces two products, and although we had a slight preference for the original stronger Takju, we also enjoyed the Hwaju with its uniquely floral notes. We can’t wait to drink with our friends once the world normalizes again, but in the meantime we are happy to enjoy nostalgic evenings at home with Hana Makgeolli, some homemade Korean food, and a great classic Korean movie.
Hana Makgeolli is available in two varieties and can be ordered for shipping or pick up:
Takju, 750 mL, $24
Takju 16 is coarsely filtered, dry, and undiluted with an alcohol by volume at 16%. This wine undergoes low temp pasteurization to maintain the full spectrum of flavors from a wild fermented brew, starting with the extremely floral almost melon-like character of fermented rice, followed by the brightness of our wild yeast that is perfectly balanced with the creaminess of the naturally occurring lactic acid and rice sediment.
Hwaju, 750 mL, $30
Stemming from the Korean root words hwa and ju, HWAJU can translate to both flower wine and fire water. Naturally fermented, unfiltered rice wine made with organic rice and infused with hydrangea and chrysanthemum flowers. The HWAJU 12 is 12% ABV, ever so sweet, earthy, delicately floral, and bright with naturally occurring lactic acid and effervescence.
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