Makgeolli (막걸리) Korean Rice Wine, and the "Drunken Rice" debacle.
What is Makgeolli?
Makgeolli (막걸리) is a type of Korean liquor made from fermented rice. It has a sweet taste and a milky hue. It was originally made in Korea a very long time ago. It’s so easy to drink as well. It’s almost as if you can’t taste that it is alcohol at all. It’s possible to drink too much of it simply because you thought it wasn’t that much alcohol in the first place. Unlike Korea’s other famous drink, soju, Makgeolli has no “kick”. As such, it has the characteristics of what some Western people might call a girly drink. But it is a traditional beverage that was popular with men as well.
How popular is Makgeolli in Korea?
Recently, according to many Korean news sources, it is becoming more and more popular. Because of this, the Korean Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MFAFF) has decided to try to make it more marketable for foreign consumers with a hope of exporting it to foreign countries. To do this, they had a contest recently to give makgeolli an English nickname, so that it would be more “foreigner friendly.” This, I think, was a bad idea. Read why after the jump:
In the contest, the public was asked to submit new English names for the drink. After receiving over 3000 entries, the finalists in the contest were “Drunken Rice”, “Markelixir”, and “Makcohol.” Other submitted entries were “Koju,” “Kori,” “Takani,” “Nanuri,” “Soolsool,” “McKorea” and “Rainydaywine.” The winner was chosen by a panel of three judges, and from now on they decided the English name of the product should be “Drunken Rice.” If I had been working in the MFAFF, I would have fought the very idea of calling it anything other than “Makgeolli” or “Korean Rice Wine” with every ounce of my being. I can understand trying to make a product more marketable and everything, but in this case, changing the name to something that is broken English in the first place doesn’t make the product more friendly with foreigners. Call it what it is. It’s wine, or liquor, or even beer, made from rice. It has it’s own name in Korean. Keep the name. Kimchi is known as kimchi in other countries. Taekwondo is known as Taekwondo in other countries. If Makgeolli is good and foreign people like it, then let it be exported as Makgeolli. “Drunken Rice” isn’t going to suddenly make foreign people want to try it. In fact, it sounds like a food if anything.
Which countries is it popular in?
No, I meant besides Korea!
Well, in Japan, Makgeolli is actually quite popular. I could say that the taste of Makgeolli is almost, but not quite the same as Japanese sake. (日本酒). I guess then it’s because of this similarity that it is popular in Japan. Now, changing the name to “Drunken Rice” (ドランケン・ライス) in a Japanese context, makes absolutely no sense when the Korean name for the drink is already established in Japan.
Furthermore MFAFF needs to stop thinking that in order to market something to “foreigners” they need to change it somehow to get them to like it. It just doesn’t make any sense. What they need to do at the very least is consult someone who is familiar with the target market.
That said, it’d be better to do real market research and find out who the people buying it overseas are, then any rebranding can be done by them.
Well it turns out after Koreans and “foreigners” didn’t respond well to the new name, they decided they want to instead update the romanization so it is easier for those not familiar with the Korean language to pronounce. I like this idea a lot better.
Makoli, Markly, Mar KELLY, Macaulay Culkin HAHA, just kidding.