I often mention how a mere twelve years ago, even 8 years ago, there was very little information on the internet about Korea. Indeed, my attempts at making kimchi and various other recipes as well as learning Korean and hanja, all began with books rather than internet sources. Until recently, there was little available in English in relation to Korean culture. I’m being cynical, but now you don’t really need to come to Korea to discover its secrets because they’ve been exposed to the entire world.
I’ve been searching for a makgeolli recipe for over ten years. With the price of a bottle so cheap it’s pointless making your own brew in Korea but back in the UK kimchi is difficult to buy and makgeolli next to impossible. Every six months or so, I’d do a web search and it has only been in the last few years that information has began to emerge. I am now fairly confident at brewing Korean rice wine but my next quest is to learn how to make the wheat and barley type yeast, known as nu-rook (누룩), which is essential both for this recipe and that of the rice drink, shik-hye (식혜). Nu-ruk is not available in the UK. The problem is compounded because a good number of Koreans, especially younger Koreans, have as much knowledge about the purpose of nu-ruk in the production of makgeolli as a British youngster might have about rennet in the process of making junket. Indeed, I’ve met Koreans who had no idea what nu-ruk is.
Anyone who has lived in Korea will be aware of the variations in rice wine, namely between makgeolli and dong-dong ju (동동주). Learning the difference has taken a long time and I’m still not a hundred percent sure my understanding is correct. Misinformation abounds on the internet and even Koreans can be unsure of the difference. Some sources will tell you both versions are different strains of the same mash but the most plausible is that dong-dong ju is produced with sticky rice and makgeolli from standard rice. One source I recently read, western in origin, claimed the name dong-dong ju referred to the small bits of rice that float on the surface, like ‘shit.’ Of course, this is incorrect because ‘shit’ in Korean is ‘ddong’ (똥) and not ‘dong.’ (동). Sometimes, dong-dong ju is known as nong-ju (농주) because of its association with farmers (nong-sa 농사, farming).
The process of making rice wine is quite simple, despite being told by numerous friends that it was both difficult and time-consuming. With only five ingredients, rice, water, nu-ruk, yeast and syrup, the most laborious part of the process was washing the rice, around twenty times, and sterilizing equipment. Apart from a jar and some muslin, all other equipment is basic though a coffee type grinder is needed if the nu-rook hasn’t been previously ground.
Once again, information on temperature varies. I originally put my jar on the top of my rice cooker, set to ‘keep warm’ mode. However, this was too warm and I think the active enzymes were killed and mould quickly formed. I was originally aiming for a temperature of around 82 degrees and had read that over 97 is detrimental. For my second attempt (dong-dong ju), I then placed a few plates between the top of the metal rice cooker bowl and the jar of mash and this brewed successfully. The process took 4.5 days and my initial batch consisted of 3 cups of rice which when further diluted produced about 1.5 liters of drink. The alcohol content was probably around 4% and a little weaker than I like and I only added about 2 table spoons of syrup. Unlike my first batch, the activity in the mash was high with plenty of bubbles and if you put your ear close to the jar, a constant busy fizzle.
I have now gone on to start five other brews using both glutinous rice and standard rice. The jars of mash are kept in a heat trap under my TV and at a point on the floor over the ondol heating pipes. Currently, I’ve set my room temperature to around 25 degrees (around 68 degrees Fahrenheit) but as I find this uncomfortable, I want to test a brew at around 21 degrees.
When I have perfected my technique and have discovered the secrets of nu-ruk, I will post details.
©박민수 2011 Creative Commons Licence.