막걸리 aka Makkeoli aka Korean Traditional Rice Wine is the oldest alcoholic beverage in Korea. It even dates back as far as the 1st century during the Three Kingdoms Era. It is a simple rice wine that is made with three main ingredients: rice, water, and nuruk. Nuruk is the traditional fermentation starter similar to yeast. It is generally a fermented wheat or rice cake. It is necessary to break down the carbohydrates and create alcohol. There are hundreds of micro-organisms living inside of it. Simply put, it is just like yeast. It is living and creates “magic”. The rice that is used is typically Chapssal, which is a sticky rice and holds a better starch for making makkeoli. Makkeoli is made differently in different parts of the country. The water from a certain area can also make a difference to the quality and taste of the makkeoli as well. I would honestly call it “rice beer” rather than “rice wine” as it is made in a closer process to beer. Now that you know a little bit about it, let me recommend some of my favorites. These are in no special ranking, but just a few recommendations.
이상헌 탁주 (E-Sang Hun Takju) is a popular choice for people who know makkeoli. It is a favorite amongst some people and I also do enjoy it. I don’t think I can drink more than one bottle of it as it is quite dry, but it is still light. There isn’t much bitterness. It has very little sourness and a clean finish. You can definitely taste the nuruk and the alcohol in it. 14% alcohol.
해창 (Hae Chang) is a very popular one and it is very easy to drink. This is a great one for beginners as it isn’t offensive at all. Hae Chang comes in 4 different alcohol percentages: 6%, 9%, 12%, and 18%. I, personally, like the 9% the best out of the 4 types. It just has the right balance out of all of them. It is creamy, thick (but not too thick), a little sour, and a little sweet. It doesn’t have a strong alcohol taste to it, but just enough that you know that you are drinking alcohol.
이화백주 (E-Hwa Baek Ju) is a sparkling makkeoli. It is the champagne of makkeoli if I want to describe it best. There is a similar one called 복순도가 (Bok Soon Doga), which technically came out first. From what I’ve heard, a previous worker for Bok Soon Doga branched off and made their own version. Bok Soon Doga is also tasty, but I like this one just slightly more because it is a tiny bit sweeter. If you like sparkly drinks, then you will most likely enjoy this one. It is highly carbonated, sweet, smooth, and has very little sourness. 6% alcohol.
If I were to have a favorite one, this one would probably be it. 금정산성 (Geum Jung San Sung) was the first and only makkeoli to be approved and licensed by the 1st dictator of South Korea as the national alcoholic drink of the country. This doesn’t really mean much, but I can see why he chose this to be the national drink of Korea. It is creamy, smooth, a little sweet, and fairly sour. Personally, I prefer more sour makkeolis. Try it for yourself and see what you think. 6% alcohol.
There are new makkeolis that are coming out every few months from all over Korea. 딸기스파클링 (Ddal Gi Sparkling) is one of these new additions from 2020. I have tried tons of flavored makkeolis and I’m not a big fan of them. They typically taste quite artificial. This is probably the best one I’ve liked so far. It is also a sparkling makkeoli, a super sparkly one might I add. The bubbles hit you in the beginning, but round out at the end with the fresh strawberries. Surprisingly, it really isn’t that sweet. It just has a tasty, natural strawberry flavor. I was quite impressed. I hope it starts hitting the shelves soon! 6.8% alcohol.
I hope you enjoy some of the recommendations. I could go on and on and talk about a million other ones. I will review a few other makkeolis in the future along with some of the other Korean Traditional Alcohols. We do drink other things besides just soju!