Everything You Need to Know About Makgeolli!

Everything You Need to Know About Makgeolli!

Koreans love to drink, and there are many traditional alcoholic beverages they enjoy. Today, we're going to tell you everything you need to know about makgeolli (막걸리): its history, what k-dramas you've seen it in, and what snacks you should eat with it!

What Is Makgeolli?

When you think of Korean alcohol, you either think of soju (소주) or makgeolli. This rice wine is easily recognizable due to its milky appearance. Unlike soju, makgeolli isn't very strong, about 6-9% alcohol by volume. Its taste is also different, mixing bitter, tangy, and sweet flavors together.

Two hands holding bowl of makgeolli and one person pouring from tea kettle
Image Credits: Jon Åslund via Flickr

Makgeolli is Korea's oldest alcoholic drink, consumed as far back as the reign of King Dongmyeong (37-19 BCE). At the time, it went by different names: ihwa-ju (이화주), or pear-blossom alcohol, since it was made when the pear trees blossomed; and nonju, or farmer's wine, since it was mainly enjoyed by the peasant classes.

Tapestry of farmers enjoying makgeolli
Image Credits: National Folk Museum of Korea via Behance


The wine was traditionally made at home for special occasions. However, home brewing was outlawed in 1934 during Japanese colonization, and using rice for making alcohol was banned in the 1960's during grain shortages. Due to these events and the growing popularity of soju, makgeolli saw a decrease in consumption. However, due to factors like its probiotic properties and appearance in k-dramas, makgeolli is now making a comeback. While it's still mostly drunk by older Koreans for the nostalgia factor, younger generations are also choosing it as an alternative to soju.

A group of men gathered around makgeolli barrel
Image Credits: Courtesy of National Folk Museum of Korea


So, how do you make makgeolli? All you need are steamed rice, water, and the fermenting agent nuruk (누룩). The ingredients soak together for a week in a barrel or crock to form a sweet, strong (15-19% ABV) drink called wonju. This mixture is left to settle, with the clear liquid at the top used for soju and the solids at the bottom diluted and strained through a cloth for makgeolli.


Makgeolli is served cold - ladled or poured from a kettle - and drunk from shallow bowls. In keeping with etiquette, the younger members at the table serve the older, while the newer businessmen serve their senior partners. Everyone turns away slightly while sipping their drink. 

Asian man pouring makgeolli for older woman

Image Credits: Alan C. via Flickr

Nowadays, you can find different variations of makgeolli, made with fruits, ginseng, or (Busan's take) wild yeast and pure water. You can also mix into a cocktail with other ingredients, like honey for kkul-makgeolli, or drink it on its own. However, it's more common to pair it with other foods (anju, 안주), which we'll discuss next.

A Meal with Makgeolli

Like other Korean alcohols, makgeolli is eaten with anju. The most popular pairing is with pajeon (파전), or scallion pancake. The pancakes' savory taste complements the makgeolli's sweetness. Koreans like this combo on a rainy day because the sound of rainfall reminds them of frying pajeon. 

Pajeon, makgeolli, and two blue plastic beach chairs
Image Credits: Edvenchers via Flickr


Next is tteokbokki (떡볶이). These spicy rice cakes are a popular Korean street food and can be eaten on any occasion. Spicy foods are the go-to for drinking, and the tteokbokki's soft texture is a good match for makgeolli's creaminess.

Tteokbokki in a skillet
Image Credits: Moon6327 via Pixabay


Another popular anju, Korean fried chicken can be paired with any alcoholic beverage. With different types of sauce and spice levels to choose from, you can order the perfect chicken to go with your makgeolli. And the crispy coating and juicy meat are just what you need for the alcohol's sweet-tangy flavor.

Korean fried chicken on red and white checked paper
Image Credits: prettywar-stl via Flickr


Kimchi (김치) is both spicy and sharp due to its fermentation process. Served on the side or on its own, kimchi is another great foil to makgeolli's bittersweet taste.

Makgeolli with kimchi
Image Credits: ai via Flickr


And finally, we can't forget ramen. Whether you're eating it at home by yourself or at a pocha with friends, there's nothing more comforting than the simple but mighty ramyun!

Two bowls of ramyun
Image Credits: mchendesign via Flickr


No matter the occasion, makgeolli and anju will always make you smile. Combining them is the perfect way to experience authentic Korean cuisine. Who can say no to Korean food and alcohol?

Have a Drink with K-dramas

K-dramas are a great way to learn about Korean culture, and that includes its food and drinks. Here are some shows where you'll see characters drinking makgeolli.

Warning: Some spoilers.

Vincenzo (2021)

This show introduced viewers around the world to two specific Korean foods: bungeoppang (붕어빵) and makgeolli. Like most international audiences, Vincenzo (Song Joong-ki) is unfamiliar with the alcohol. It's his new friend Hong Yoo-chan (Yoo Jae-myung) who pours him his first makgeolli.

Vincenzo and Yoo-chan drink makgeolli
Image Credits: tvN via Dramabeans


Following Yoo-chan's murder, Vincenzo continues to drink makgeolli in his memory. There are several late nights where he and Yoo-chan's daughter Cha-young (Jeon Yeo-been) eat fried chicken and drink lots of makgeolli while planning their next moves.

Cha-young pouring makgeolli for VIncenzo
Image Credits: tvN via Tatler

For Vincenzo, makgeolli is more than just a drink. It's the symbol of a man who fought for justice but was gone too soon. And viewers are always reminded of this fact whenever Vincenzo and Cha-young open a new bottle.

Hotel del Luna (2019)

This gorgeous show is about ghosts, fate, and a woman trying to atone for her past sins. This same woman, Jang Man-wol (IU), also has a love for expensive champagne, but any good alcohol will do. She generally avoids makgeolli, which brings back painful memories.

Chung-myung teasing Man-wol with makgeolli
                                 Image Credits: tvN via The Fangirl Verdict

Halfway through the series, Man-wol has some excellent makgeolli. She and Koo Chan-sung (Yeo Jin-goo) meet the Spirit of the Well (Nam Da-reum), caretaker of the water in the drink. The Spirit later leaves the well and refuses to return until his demands are met. These episodes offered a glimpse into both the making of makgeolli and the deities associated with particular places and industries.
Man-wol with the Spirit of the Well
Image Credits: tvN via Dramabeans


There are also scenes from Man-wol's past sprinkled throughout the show where she drinks makgeolli with her friends, particularly with her first love, Go Chung-myung (Lee Do-hyun). They become more poignant as viewers learn what happened to them.

Man-wol with Chung-myung
Image Credits: tvN via Dramabeans

Like Vincenzo, makgeolli in Hotel del Luna comes with sad reminders for its main character. Give Man-wol all the champagne she wants if it makes her smile.

Because This Is My First Life (2017)

Pajeon and makgeolli are on the table during the meeting between Yoon Ji-ho (Jung So-min) and Go Jung-min (Lee Chung-ah), who previously dated Ji-ho's new husband Nam Se-hee (Lee Min-ki). The women discuss marriage and past heartbreaks while sharing the wine.

Two Korean women sitting in front of makgeolli and pajeon
Image Credits: tvN via Dramabeans


In a more hilarious scene, Ji-ho and Se-hee meet an old man (ajusshi, 아저씨) who offers Se-hee a bowl of suspicious-looking liquor. Ji-ho gulps it down instead and is immediately under the influence. We have to agree with Se-hee: drunk Ji-ho is cute!

Ji-ho drinking makgeolli
Image Credits: tvN via Cereal 

Curtain Call (2022)

We'll finish with a date from this show's final episode. Yoo Jae-heon (Kang Ha-neul) takes Park Se-yeon (Ha Ji-won) to a restaurant that serves pajeon and makgeolli, hinting at a more serious relationship. It's the right note on which to end an emotional show.
                                                        

As you can tell, makgeolli is a drink of choice for meeting with friends, conducting serious business, or drowning one's sorrows alone. Enjoyed in moderation, makgeolli tasting can be a pleasant experience.

Out for a Drink: Makgeolli at Restaurants

Looking to try makgeolli in style? Here are some Korean restaurants and eateries that serve makgeolli:

Five flights of colored makgeolli and one bottle of white

Image Credits: @d4rice via Tourteller

Makgeolli Salon. If you're looking for a reasonably priced location, you're in luck. Makgeolli Salon offers all-you-can-drink makgeolli at 5600 won. It also serves delicious pajeon and kimchi pancakes.

Makgeolli with pork belly and spread

Image Credits: 예랑 via Mango Plate

Mukjeon. This restaurant serves over 10 makgeolli flavors, including chestnut, grapefruit, and the original made in-house. It's a local haunt that also serves delicious food like bossam (보쌈) and kimchi tofu. Expect to pay a little more, but the quality of the food is worth it!

Bottles of makgeolli on bookcase against green wall

Image Credits: Albert Kim via 10 Magazine

Damatori H. If you want to taste makgeolli from all over Korea, then go visit this bar. Close to Itaewon, samplers of five are available for 3000 won. Besides pajeon, Damatori H serves galbi, tofu and kimchi, and other anju.

Makgeolli and seafood

Image Credits: hesitant_shopper via Instagram

Mr. Ahn's Craft Makgeolli. This Michelin Guide restaurant pairs makgeolli with food that looks and tastes luxurious. It also hosts one-day makgeolli-making classes at 50,000 won.

Makgeolli with kimchi pajeon

Image Credits: 단율 via Mango Plate

Neurin Maeul Makgeolli. The name translates to "Slow Village," and it's currently the world's smallest makgeolli brewery. Neurin Maeul has several amazing drinks, including the 4 Series, available for 10,000 won. 

Makgeolli bowl and sleeve

Image Credits: Courtesy of Restaurant Guru

Wolhyang. This bar has different types of original makgeolli, such as chestnut and brown rice. It also offers twists on classic Korean food, including seafood japchae and black bean tofu. We recommend Wolhyang on your next night out.

Makgeolli sampler and tteokbokki

Image Credits: Cathy L at Tripadvisor

Moonjar. Named after Joseon-era porcelain, Moonjar is fancier than most of the places on this list. Here you can try Yuja Makgeolli, made with citrus, as well as other flavors like honey and sweet potato. It's very busy, especially on the weekend, so reservations are required.

Of course, you can easily find makgeolli at convenience stores and traditional markets. The stores carry a variety of brands and flavors, so you can look at the ingredients and choose what you'd like.

Snacks for Sipping Makgeolli

You don't need an expensive meal to enjoy makgeolli. All you need are some snacks, including the ones that you can find in our Korean Dramas box:


Delicious Cream Carbo Hot Chicken. We always have ramyun in our boxes, and this month is one of the Buldak flavors. Pretend you're eating dinner at a fancy restaurant as you whip up these noodles. The extra creaminess from the cheese powder blends with the makgeolli's smoothness. Enjoy! (맛있게 드세요)

Ad for roasted peanut seaweed bites

Image Credits: Orion via Instagram

Roasted Peanut Seaweed Bites. The name says it all: In one bite-sized piece, you get roasted peanut notes and the salty fishiness of the seaweed. Dunk it into your makgeolli for another flavorful explosion.

Wackle Onion Baguette Snack
Image Credits: Image via Metroimall


Wackle Onion Baguette Snack. Imagine you're biting into fresh baguette with onion butter. The makgeolli's sweetness takes the edge off the snack's saltiness, while the snack's savoriness lessens the makgeolli's effect. It's a flavor match made in Heaven!

Rich Jinju Honey Rice Crackers
Image Credits: Image via Richy


Rich Jinju Honey Rice Crackers. These crackers contain a mix of sweet and savory due to the honey and soy sauce coating the crackers. Round out this symphony of flavors with sweet-tangy makgeolli.

And for our vegetarian Seoulmates, we have these snacks from this month's Seoulbox V:

Nan Nana Corn Chips

Image Credits: Image via Gmarket

Nan Nana Corn. Corn snacks are extremely popular in Korea, and these chili-flavored crisps are no exception. Enjoy the crunch with your drink.

Steamed chestnuts
Image Credits: Image via Seoulbox

Steamed Chestnuts. Nuts are a popular anju due to their crunchiness and saltiness. The chestnuts also have health benefits such as a high amount of antioxidants, so you can snack on them without feeling too guilty!

Korean Dramas Seoulbox 2023

Image Credits: Image via Seoulbox

Of course, you don't need makgeolli to enjoy the box. You can get the snacks by themselves! Go to Seoulbox's website and choose from the Seoulbox Signature and V options. Pay and wait for your Korean snacks to arrive!

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Have you tried makgeolli before, and would you recommend it? Is there a favorite food you like to eat with it? Share with us in the comments!

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