Video: The Modern Makgeolli Industry


From the Goguryeo, Goryeo, and Joseon dynasties up through modern times, brewing of alcohol on the Korean peninsula has had a long and tumultuous history. Sul, the term for the family of Korean alcohols, has waxed and waned in both brewing technology and cultural knowledge. Draconian laws since the turn of the century, such as the prohibition on homebrewing and centralization of makgeolli production during the Japanese occupation in 1908, or the end to rice-based brewing in 1964 that followed years of chronic famine, precipitated the decline of regional alcohols, in terms of cultural knowledge as well as active brewing practices that existed outside of commercial standards. Changes to generations-old recipes, combined with the later addition of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame, undermined the faith consumers had long held in this beloved beverage. Only in recent years has there been a resurgence of popular interest in a return to the old traditions, led by a small circle of dedicated brewers who have spent entire lifetimes keeping a very dim flame alight. The modern makgeolli industry has boomed and sputtered in the last decade, at the mercy of trends and failed government initiatives. Challenges and opportunities abound for future sustainable growth in the makgeolli industry and related cultural export through Korean cuisine.

Tonight’s presentation will focus on two major aspects of the makgeolli industry: brewing and production as well as marketing and the evolution of modern consumers. Particular attention will be paid to the modernization of brewing practices from the turn of the century and the reasons for the makgeolli booms and busts of recent decades. In addition, much attention will be given to the evolution of the Korean consumer and drinking habits thereof, as well as marketing hits and misses from an international perspective. Finally, solutions for the future of the industry from production and consumer marketing perspectives will be explored.

Lecturer Bios:

Becca Baldwin has been teaching the art of makgeolli brewing since 2011 at Susubori Academy. She is a co-author of Begin With Rice & Water: A Primer on Brewing Makgeolli (Rural Development Administration, 2014) and director of Makgeolli Makers, a consultancy and educational organization dedicated to sharing knowledge about traditional Korean brewing methods. Hailing from the USA with a background in winemaking and distillation, she moved to Korea in 2006. Becca took gold prize in the 2012 and 2013 Expat Makgeolli Brewer's Competition. She has since served as competition chair and has mentored many of her students to success.

Julia Mellor is the co-founder and director of Makgeolli Mamas & Papas Korea (MMPK), an organization providing tourism, consultancy and education opportunities about the traditional Korean alcohol industry in English. Over the past four years she has been dedicated to researching Korean alcohol culture and history within a market context, developing a particular passion for forging the gaps between brewers, bar owners, enthusiasts and consumers. With nine years in Korea under her belt, Julia’s and MMPK’s mission is to foster a deeper understanding of Korea’s representative alcohols, with the strongly held hopes of inspiring development and change in the industry both domestically and abroad.

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