Korean Brewday: Black Mak — My First Makkeoli

I’m hosting a party this Monday night for some people I know to see our friend Chris off, as he leaves Korea for India, and then parts unknown, a day or two later. Chris is gluten-intolerant, so I figured it might be nice to finally try make some makkeoli for him… I’d been planning on doing so for a long time, but never gotten around to it, so I thought I should bloody well get it done.

Now, for those who don’t know, makkeoli is simply rice beer. People call it all kinds of other things here, of course, now that it’s in vogue: the champagne of rice; drunken rice; rice wine. Don’t buy that silly talk: makkeoli is made in way so similar to the making of beer that it’s foolish to categorize it with any other alcoholic fermentation.

(The reason people do so is partly because they want makkeoli to be classy, but also because they associate beer with low-alcohol, watery, thin drinking. If more people had tried a Belgian quadrupel, or a Belgian Golden Strong Ale, then they would know that makkeoli is beer… though they might still call it champagne or wine to make it sound classy.)

Making makkeoli supposedly isn’t hard. I worked alone, so I don’t have pictures, but I’ll try get some the next time I do this. (I’m thinking of taking a course next month at the local community center on makkeoli-making, since it is very cheap — only W20,000, which is about $20 in quick’n’dirty currency conversion.)

But I will detail my approach, anyway: basically, I took some black rice and steamed it. Now, by steamed, I mean I took a steamer pot and put the rice in the upper part, so that it was cooked by steam, not by boiling. The result is surprisingly unsticky, for Korean short-grained rice, but very chewy. Supposedly, this makes for better makkeoli, but I guess we’ll see. It takes quite some time to steam it sufficiently, as you want the starches in the rice to gelatinize prior to attempting to ferment it.

Before I go on, nuruk is something that deserves a little explanation: it’s a kind of wheat germ that’s purposefully infected with a particular fungus. This fungus does what alpha amylase does in a beer mash: it converts the starches in the rice into sugars, for the yeast to then ferment. The reason we can’t do with rice what we do with beer — mash it — is because rice doesn’t have the enzymatic power to convert its own starches to sugars: in other words, rice doesn’t digest its starches when you leave it sitting in hot water, the way malted barley, wheat, and oats do. So those cultures that use rice as the primary source for fermentables end up being depending on this kind of fuungus as part of the process.

Now, this means that makkeoli fermentation is actually a symbiotic fermentation, with two primary microbiota working together. (There are other microbiota in there too, which is why makkeoli goes sour over time.) In any case, nuruk is sold either in pucks or in bags full beige chunky stuff. You can either hydrate your nuruk and add the rice, or mix the nuruk into the rice and then hydrate it all together.

In my case, I mixed the nuruk with the rice and let it sit for a while. At the same time, I boiled up some water and cleaned the fermenter, which is a 2-gallon glass jug. I’d given the jug a long soaking with bleach, and so all I had to do was rinse it out. I’m not planning on aging this stuff too long, so I didn’t trouble myself with an iodophor solution to rinse it: the makkeoli is going to be gone in a week, or if not then I’ll freeze the plastic bottles I put it into, so spoiling is unlikely to be a worry.

So when the time came, I added the rice-and-nuruk mixture into the fermenter, added the water after it had cooled, pitched my yeast (which is a whiskey yeast with enzymes in the mix — I figure it can’t hurt to have a little more enzymatic power in the mix) and mixed it all up, shaking the jug to aerate the mixture and help the yeast reproduce. I also added a small amount of molasses (because it was handy) to provide some sugars for the yeast to consume while reproducing, since they use a little sugar when doing so and I don’t know how long it will take for the fungus to do its job.

I’m starting this a day late, so my goal of having it ready to bottle on Monday morning is going to be impossible. However, I’ve heard that a decent makkeoli can be made, if it’s kept warm (but not hot!), during a three-day fermentation period; my hope is that 2.5 days will be enough to produce a mild and sweetish black rice makkeoli, from which I can decant a portion to a bottle, while letting the remainder ferment out a day or two more.

We’ll see how it turns out — I’ll report back with pictures when I have some.

2 thoughts on “Korean Brewday: Black Mak — My First Makkeoli

  1. Thanks Michael, I’ll try snap some pictures and post them tomorrow, while it’s still fermenting, and more when it’s ready. I’ll be pulling some tomorrow for the party, but may leave more to ferment for a day or two extra. :)

    I wish I’d snapped pictures of the process, but this turned out to be so easy I’ll likely make more soon, so keep your eyes peeled…

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