Elwood 5566

Mission Makgeolli

Posted in Food and Drink, rice wine (beer) by 노강호 on November 27, 2011

my first batch of dong-dong ju, light, fizzy and refreshing

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.

nu-ruk (누룩), a type of yeast made from wheat

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.

my first successful batch of dong-dong ju mash sitting fermenting on top of my rice cooker

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).

3 cups of rice produced nearly two litres of ,wine’ though I may have over diluted it

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.

subsequent batches of mash – both from glutinous rice and standard rice

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.

Creative Commons License

©박민수 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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7 Responses

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  1. wetcasements said, on November 28, 2011 at 4:28 am

    I’ve never gotten a straight answer from a Korean re: the difference between makolli and dong-dong-ju.

    At best, I got something along the lines of how it’s strained out — one drink has fewer bits of rice particulate than the other, and this somehow changes the flavor.

    I dunno — they taste exactly the same to me.

    Very impressive work, btw!

    • 林東哲 said, on November 30, 2011 at 12:08 am

      I’m actually a little pissed this morning as I sample my latest batch and add syrup to it. Actually, because of my fitness regime I don’t drink the makgeolli myself but give it away. Thanks for the comment.

      • wetcasements said, on December 1, 2011 at 4:08 am

        Don’t forget that on first read, a Yank like me read that as “I’m a little angry this morning.” 🙂

      • 林東哲 said, on December 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm

        Actually, we used ‘pissed’ for angry as well.

  2. Anno said, on December 5, 2011 at 12:26 am

    Very impressive! Have you made 식혜 yet? I thought I was told that it is possible to make it without 누룩. . . no?

  3. 努江虎-노강호 said, on January 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    David, thanks for your comments. I too drank the sour makgeolli. I’m assuming the recipe is approx 16% as that is what the original recipe I used stated. (There is a link to Max’s recipe on my post). I’m also guessing based on standard wine and the makgeolli I am used to commercially, which is about 5%. There is a small floater that you can buy which is not expensive and which you float in the drink and from which you can read the ABV. At least thats what I’ve read but I am new to any form of home brew.Good luck and thanks.

  4. 努江虎-노강호 said, on January 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    David, thanks for your comments. I too drank the sour makgeolli as I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.

    I am calculating the ABV solely on the fact that amounts of water to rice are the same as the original recipe I used, for which there is a link on my post (Max) and which was stated as about 16%. Also, I’m judging in relation to western wine, somewhere between 9-14% and Japanese saki which is closer to 16%.

    I have read you can buy some kind of gauge which floats in the drink and from which you can read the ABV. However, home brew is new to me. You can probably find one in a home-brew shop and s I am in Korea I haven’t done this.

    Good luck and thanks


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