Makgeolli (막걸리) Korean Rice Wine, and the "Drunken Rice" debacle.

Sweet and milky white rice wine

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 It was originally made in Korea a very long time ago.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?

Korea.

No, I meant besides Korea!

Korean "Makkori" marketed in Japan

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.

Update

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.

Some suggestions:

Makoli, Markly, Mar KELLY, Macaulay Culkin HAHA, just kidding.

53 Responses to “Makgeolli (막걸리) Korean Rice Wine, and the "Drunken Rice" debacle.”

  1. lol @ the names
    “Drunken Rice” somehow sounds like a rissotto but instead of cream is made with alcohol … O.o don’t ask me why, that just comes to my mind.
    Is it already being exported to other countries? perhaps Mexico? :O

  2. The Seoul Searcher Says:

    You tell me…

  3. true o.o
    I guess I’ll go search for it today😀

  4. Hey!!

    So I couldn’t resist and ran to the Korean neighbourhood searching for the Makgeolli and I got a bottle of MAKkoli “Cloudy rice wine” the guy from the “Seoul Market” said it was like Mexican Tepache and since I was already there I got everything to make Kimchi (for the very 1st time!!)
    I’ll make a post about this experience and will let you know😉
    ps. I did like the flavour of the (Macaulay Culkin lol)Makgeolli

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      What’s Tepache? I guess when I was in my college days, the only drinks associated with Mexico we always had supply of were Corona, XX, and Jose Cuervo Tequila.

      Making Kimchi? Wow, you’re quite brave. I’ve never made it. I’d be afraid to go against whatever my family’s recipe is.

  5. I vote for Makoli. Taste is quite recommendable to everyone (not included below 16) including foreigners.

  6. Well I just hope that MFAFF approves the official name of makgeolli as “makgeolli” in the end. Btw, if you google “makgeolli”, you’ll be able to see a short wikipedia definition of makgeolli and some blog posts, but still there aren’t many news articles yet…

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Makgeolli is an ok romanization for Korean speakers. If not, the “eo” will throw people off and Makgeolli you’ll get Mahk-key-ol-lee. That aside, Makgeolli is a good drink.

  7. Gina Joy Says:

    “Makoli” would be the least confusing name. And I think calling it “Drunken Rice” or any other description that refers to how and of what it is made, just makes it sound less appetizing. (I personally found it unappetizing anyway.) I was surprised to learn that it was bottled. My experience was always a communnal pot made by the owner of the establishment where it was being served. Just curiously, is the whole cup sharing ritual still in place or does everybody just get there own bottle now?

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      If you go to drink makgeolli they give you a pot and you ladle it into your own cup, much like the first picture in this article. Cup sharing? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. What exactly do you mean? Everyone has their own cup.

  8. Tepache is like fermented pineapple juice… it’s good
    and Yes Kimchi!! I’m so excited! and the lady from the Seoul Market gave me some good advice in adittion I have a book with the recipe.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      The recipe? You do know that there are over 100 different ways to make Kimchi, right?

  9. you know what… is more like Pulque …
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulque

  10. Oh My God!! This is my favorite drink haha!
    . Although Soju is popular among Koreans, I prefer ‘Makgeolli’ to ‘Soju’. ‘Makgeolli’ is kinda soft when i drink it. It’s enjoyable to drink it. I sometimes bring my foreign friends to taste the Korean liquor. And they LOVE it! haha

  11. Gina Joy Says:

    Re cup sharing: When I was in Korea in the 70’s, a group would go out for a pot of mokoli and when you wanted to honor one of the group, you would fill his cup. He would drink it and then honor you by refilling that same cup and offering it to you. You would drink it, then refill and offer to another person. The most honored guest, say the boss out with his employees, might have a cups lined up waiting for him to drink.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Although people still talk about the businessman’s drinking culture, I think it’s toned down a lot since then, and even then, I don’t think people share the cups in the same way. I personally have not ever seen that, but some people have told me that in fact there are certain drinking customs that go with certain regions. Were you in Seoul in the 1970’s?

  12. Gina Joy Says:

    I was in Chungcheongnam-do (충청남도), but I people I knew from Seoul reported the same practice.

  13. Yup I do know there are alot of recipes, but I’m making the one made with Korean cabbage, I have tried this one in a couple of Korean restaurants and I like it and since I’m a chef and had never tried cooking Korean food thought this would be a good start.

  14. I’m afraid I don’t know the region o.o
    the problem here is I just have to trust the recipe I got from a book i got here in Mexico, the tips the lady @ the Seoul Market gave me and my experience eating it….
    probably will end up being a Mexican Kimchi version (with all the respect Korean food deserves..)

    So if you have any advice…let me know😉
    I will start the whole process today and will make a post on my blog about it and about the experience of going into a Korean supermarket where no one seem to understand me

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      I’ve actually never made Kimchi before, so I am sorry, but I can’t give you any advice. I do know that some people put it in big clay pots with a lid and bury it in the ground to keep it semi cool. You then might want to try to put it in a dark cool place, but not too cool so as to stop the fermentation process.

  15. it’s raining here in sydney thesedays…u guys know what, this drink should be perfect for this weather!!

  16. So I finally posted my blog…not the Kimchi one thou …

    http://thejuliejuliagiselaproject.blogspot.com/

    -Gisela V.

  17. Have you added 7up or Sprite to Makgeolli? I strongly recommend that🙂 but.. it’s not like an achohol anymore, just like a kind of beverage! haha

  18. Baek Seju.. Hm, I never try it though.
    I got to drink it this saturday! Is it strong?

  19. I don’t get it. France lost. How quick was that. I guess I just expected that they had a great opportunity to do well in this years world cup. Maybe next time. Maybe its time to jump on the Argentina bandwagon. Looks like Demichelis has already scored. Go Argentina. To make me feel better from that devistating loss by France, I have been listening to some funny jokes.. This one made me feel a little better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3j7uSbccSc

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      This article is about Magkeolli. Can you maybe post a world cup comment on one of the world cup posts?

  20. Patty Kim Says:

    I think the government needs to stop considering white people as the only foreigners in Korea. Most foreigners in Korea are Chinese and other kinds of Asian. It’s so silly to think that white people have to like something in order for it to be thought of as international. Why does Korea need white peoples’ approval for everthing?

  21. Dell Bidez Says:

    I think in English best name is just Korean Rice Wine…

  22. Almond Chicken. Another Chicken recipes comes from the great cook n food recipes book, specially for chicken lovers. Try this dish and you will love it. Almond chicken is a pakistani dish, which usually served in weddings and other occasions. Below you will find how to bake this great dish, follow the instructions and you will get the tasty dish on your table tonight

  23. i love it. i crazy it.🙂

    Have you drink putting cider(like sprite) . it make more sweety.
    and Makgeolli is well match with jeon (Assorted Pan-fried Delicacies ) and muk (jellied food), jokbal (pork hocks).

    • I tried it with sprite and it’s really good, and then I saw I had grapes and smashed some grapes and pour them into the glass and it’s waaay better😄

  24. Ur blogs really interesting! This is a question to Sydney readers – does anyone know anywhere that sells the makwolee that comes in the green clear bottle in Sydney? Supposedly this tastes so much better than the white bottled one we get here. I really wanna try it as I love love love makwolee but I can’t find any other brand anywhere (talk abt a monopoly)

  25. Jang Minseok Says:

    I am not agree with your post I think it’s very important to make things available to foreigners because they don’t understand Korea culture and history. We need to change things for them because their taste is different too. They can’t eat the spicy and they can’t understand about our food, so we need to change to they liking food. If they liking then they eat, but if they have real korean one they won’t. It’s important to get the money from foreigns but they shouldn’t bother our country too much too.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      So, do you call cheese 우유곰팡이 (milk mold)? How about pizza? Is that 이타리아치즈토마토빵(italian cheese tomato bread)? Why then must Korean products be changed?

      And foreigners should give us money but not mess with our country? Are you serious?

    • I don’t really agree… as Mexican why would I want to go to a Korean restaurant and eat a Kimchi that taste like a Taco (or any other mexican food) , I really don’t like when I see on TV a show where they are cooking “mexican food” and it’s not like the real deal,,,,
      I love Korean food or at least what I’ve tried here in Mexico and I know it’s not 100% real because probably they can not find all the same ingredients but I love how spicy and hot the food is.
      I know we ALL want people investing in our contry but “get the money from foreigns and not let them bother with our country” dosn’t sound right to me o.o

    • lim.hyung.sun Says:

      hmm… it’s important that we consider the taste and culture of foreigners… however if we try to suit the tastes of our food to other people’s tastes, then it would end up tasting like nothing in the end. In todays world, many foreigners are familiar with spicy and exotic foods due to spread of Indian and Chinese restaurants; not to mention London, we can spot a few Asian and exotic restaurants in many European countries now… Although some people might get repelled by unfamilar foods, they would eventually seek something genuine

      • The Seoul Searcher Says:

        I don’t agree that anyone consider anything when they make food other than how it should be made. If you alter something because you are making it for a certain race of person, that’s racism. Malicious hate? Certainly not, but it’s still a form or racism, as you are treating someone different based on his race.

  26. lim.hyung.sun Says:

    oh my, Makgolli is the drink to have if you really wanna know about Korea!!! hahah it’s my favourite… not as strong as Soju but a little bit sweet and smooth… should try with Sprite or 7up. (Makgolli cider, that’s what we call)… my friends in London love it as well..

  27. I really do miss Makgolli on every Choo-seock and Seol-nal.. But, as we can see Sushi is Sushi, Makgolli should be Makgolli !!!!!

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  29. This is the best blog I have ever read thank you!

  30. I miss Makgeolli! Where can I buy it in U.S.?

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