Bubbles are the beverage of the moment, particularly bubbles that aren’t Champagne. It’s a trend that has folks clamouring for cava and prosecco, but for some reason nobody is talking about makgeolli.
That might have something to do with most people not knowing how to pronounce it, or what it is. But if you like bubbles – and if something lightly sweet and refreshing sounds about right for summer – makgeolli (pronounced MACH-go-lee, though spelled any number of ways) is an offbeat sparkling wine worth getting to know. Not that it will be easy.
Makgeolli is a fermented rice wine from Korea, and you may have to hunt a bit to find it. Some Asian grocers sell it, but your best bet is at liquor stores located in or near Asian communities.
Koreans have been making makgeolli for centuries; it started as the alcohol of choice among farmers. But in recent decades it has become more fashionable and moved into the cities. Traditionally, it is consumed with fried pancakes made from mung beans and pork. It’s a pairing the follows the broader culinary wisdom that sparkling wines pair well with fried and fatty foods, the acidity and effervescence helping to cut through the heavy ingredients.
Though it is lightly sparkling, makgeolli bears little resemblance in taste or appearance to what most of us consider sparkling wines. Because it is unfiltered, it has a creamy white colour and a slight viscosity. The flavour is tangy and lightly sweet with lots of citrus in the background. It’s meant to be consumed young and packs just 6 to 9 per cent alcohol.
Even the packaging can be a bit disarming. It is almost always sold in plastic soda-style bottles (and, at least in Korea, often alongside sugary beverages). It’s also cheap, usually running $8 or so for a litre.
Once you find it, how do you drink it? Chilled, of course. And with fried chicken, Asian take-out, barbecue pork ribs, even burgers and sausages off the grill. Just be sure to gently turn the bottle upside down a few times before opening. Because the wine is unfiltered, sediment will collect at the bottom.
Want to get more creative? Makgeolli also makes a great mixer. Try it 1:1 with pineapple juice. Or get fancy and doctor up that blend with some lime juice and cream of coconut, then pour the whole thing over ice. For a frozen version of the same drink, toss the pineapple juice, lime juice, cream of coconut and some ice in a blender. Blend until smooth, then stir in makgeolli. Or for a shandy-style cooler, try makgeolli cut with lemonade.