Sure, a Cass or Hite beer compliments a spicy soup perfectly, and soju is a great pre-cursor to an evening in the norebang or night out dancing. But there are times when only makkoli (막걸리) will do.
This thick and hearty rice wine was originally enjoyed by farmers and rural dwellers. Nowadays, it aids hikers in their missions up Korea’s steep hills and mountains and accompanies traditional meals. Many Korean people believe in its health benefits, being low in calories yet rich in fibre and “good bacteria”. It continues to be associated with nature and ancestry.
In my experience, it’s easier on the palette than soju, with an almost sweet taste and 5-7% alcohol volume. I find that it goes perfectly with a plate of dotorimuk muchim (도토리묵무침), acorn jelly deliciously covered with hot paste. This combo is equally in keeping outside in the heat of summer, or inside as a warming winter treat. And if you’re on a country walk, makkoli will go down very nicely.
Yet even urbanites love the stuff. Here in London, makkoli is a hit! When going out for a meal with friends from my language class, it is almost obligatory for a bottle to be ordered. Whereas soju is ritually downed in shots, makkoli is sociably sipped on from large wooden bowls throughout the meal and into the night.
It is available for order from all London Korean restaurants, and even from the Old Justice pub (Bermondsey) whose menu description give the perfect summation (I’ve never tried it with Sprite, though):
- Keep in mind that the anglocised spelling is sometimes makgeolli or makguli, and in England it is often referred to as Korean rice wine.
- It will usually come in a large, white plastic bottle.
- Don’t forget to shake the bottle before pouring and drinking (otherwise you’ll end up with a sandy residue at the bottom of your cup where the sediment has settled).