By Kim Tae-gyu
The conventional image of drinkers of "makgeolli" is that they tend to have Korea's traditional rice wine all day long in an old-fashioned restaurant, in particular on wet weather, together with some side dishes.
As the milky white alcohol gains popularity even among young adults, however, people are consuming it like a Starbucks coffee ― Domestic manufacturers have brought out a takeout version of makgeolli.
Baesangmyun Brewery, the maker of one of the leading brands of makgeolli, said that it has opened a micro-brewery in southern Seoul around its head office where visitors can buy and take out fresh makgeolli.
The Seoul-based outfit plants to establish around 10 more miniature breweries at the capital by the end of 2010 where the takeout makgeolli will go on sale just like the Starbucks outlets.
"We will rebuild breweries just like those a century ago. They will represent culture regarding Korean alcoholic beverages," company CEO Bae Young-ho told a press conference. "Furthermore, we plan to introduce environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes, which require minimum use of water while enabling the recycling of some by-products."
Bae added that it would release third-generation makgeolli, which will last about one month and a half. Currently, the expiry date of the thick rice wine is around a week and this has been touted as the biggest downside of makgeolli.
Makgeolli had been the go-to alcohol for ordinary Koreans for so long thanks to its rich taste and affordable price before its popularity waned in modern times due to West alcoholic beverages such as beer and spirits.
Yet, Koreans seemingly found a fresh attraction to makgeolli in the mid 2000s after producers started to use higher quality ingredients to overcome the drawback of terrible hangovers the day after a drinking session.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries estimates that the makgeolli market rocketed from 300 billion won ($249.5 million) in 2008 to about 420 billion won last year.
Its exports also expanded from $2.9 million in 2007 to $4.4 million in 2008 and $6.2 million last year despite the global financial distress. The upward pace is expected to continue for the time being, according to market watchers.
The ministry proposed the cloudy wine as an official beverage of the G-20 summit for this November although it remains to be seen whether it would be picked as such at the high-profile gathering.
막걸리를 마시는 사람들을 생각하면 주로 비오는 날, 전통적인 음식점에서 반찬이랑 먹는 이미지가 떠오른다.
부연 막걸리는 젊은이들에게도 인기가 있어 유명한 스타벅스 커피처럼 소비한다. 현재 국내 양조업자들은 심지어 '테이크아웃'용 막걸리를 만들어냈다. 전통주 생산업체인 "배상면주가"는 서울 남부지역에 방문고객들이 쉽게 막걸리를 받아갈 수 있는 소규모 '테이크아웃' 양조장을 연다고 밝혔다.
서울에 본사가 있는 이 업체는 금년 내 서울 지역에 10개점을 열 계획이다. '테이크아웃' 막걸리는 스타벅스 커피숍처럼 판매 된다.
배영호 배상면주가 대표는 '느린마을 양조장' 에 대해 "우리 술 문화를 상징하는 커뮤니티"라며 "생태적, 공동체적, 문화적, 미학적 가치를 담은 미래의 도심형 양조장의 모델을 제시할 것"이라고 말했다.