Màkku’s makgeolli is not the same. “Artificial flavors are nonexistent in Màkku,” says Pak. “You’re supposed to taste the fresh ingredients.” Indeed, Màkku has an earthy richness that reveals an unmistakable freshness.
Màkku is cheerfully sweet but not cloying, and at an approachable 6 percent alcohol by volume, it’s a little stronger than a beer. There is a tanginess to Màkku, as well as a yogurty earthiness and velvety consistency that balances it out. It comes in a version with no added flavors, but more popular are the flavored varieties—passionfruit, blueberry, and mango—that are made with pure cane sugar and fresh fruit purees. The purees give the normally white makgeolli different pastel hues which are showcased when the drink is poured into a glass—something to watch for if you decide not to drink it straight from the can.
Before founding Sool, the company that makes Màkku, Pak worked for Anheuser-Busch, the beer industry leader in the United States. The company would have her travel the world to pinpoint trends in organic and fermented beverages. Pak says the job was perfectly aligned with what she already does while traveling. “All I like to do is discover cool bars. Whenever I travel, it’s around like, what do they drink here? It wasn’t so much about nightlife, but it was about discovering the beverage culture.”
While visiting South Korea, some friends took her to a makgeolli bar. Growing up in a Korean-American household in a largely Korean community in Flushing, Queens, Pak’s primary perception of makgeolli was that it was something older people enjoyed. The TV shows she watched would show grandparents sipping on it as they rambled about makgeolli being the secret to living a long life.
So while going to a makgeolli bar was not on her itinerary, as a beverage connoisseur, she was intrigued. And that experience changed her life. It was at these bars where Pak realized “there’s so much more to makgeolli.”
“I think it’s just not as big now because people just don’t know about it,” she says. “It deserves a place in the market.”
She describes how, around 2010, makgeolli sales started declining in Korea, leading the Korean government to incentivize consumers to drink the product so that the historic tradition would not fizzle out. In more recent years however, younger Koreans have been consuming it on their own volition, even devoting their careers to it. Pak estimates the average age of a Korean makgeolli brewer is now around 30, roughly half of what it once was.