Several years ago, while working for a couple months in Jeju City, I asked an old friend to join me for an evening of makgeolli and jeon. We hadn't seen each other in quite some time, and I thought it the perfect situation for playing catch up. His response, to my confusion, was that it wasn't raining.
Today—in Houston—it was raining, and had been doing so for the past few days.
The perfect opportunity to make makgeolli.
We started making a somewhat unique version of makgeolli, or rice beer, a few years back. The summer prior, on a WWOOFing trip to South Korea, we took a short detour to Busan and eventually made our way to Sanseong village. The purpose, beyond the mountain trek, was to eat black goat and drink their local rice beer. While the charcoal grilled goat was phenomenal, the rice beer was completely unexpected. Sour, acidic, complex. It was assertive and lively, offering flavors that are typically masked by generous amounts of post-fermentation sweeteners. Shortly after our return, we started trying to reproduce that makgeolli.
In our second issue of Daily Ferments, we detailed the process for making a couple liters of farmhouse-style rice beer. It is a fitting amount for a beginner, requiring little in terms of materials, ingredients, and space. A key step in the process is cooking the rice. This is typically done by steaming, which—in a 2.5 liter batch with two pounds of rice—is a pretty straight-forward affair. As your target volume increases, however, so does the capacity of your equipment. It wasn't long before we needed to make a several gallons of rice beer for an event and were left with a choice: construct a large wooden basket to fit inside of our 10 gallon brew kettle, or find a functional work-around using our modestly equipped (tiny) kitchen. We chose the later, and decided to try boiling the rice.
For the last couple batches, we have experimented with cooking the rice into a thick porridge. To our surprise, it has been a great success. The final product is a bit lower in alcohol and lighter in body; with a drier finish and a more-rounded, mild flavor (a pleasant balance of sweet, sour, acidic, and nutty). It also seems to hold up longer and be less prone to over-carbonation in the bottle. It is a deviation from the traditional method—and slight variation on the familiar drink—but still produces a pleasing, approachable rice beer.
So today, with the rain, I've decided to document the new process. It's only a five to six liter batch, but still requires more rice than my steamer basket can accommodate.
I've also decided to flavor it with seasonal, local sweet potatoes.
After soaking the rice overnight, put it into a large stockpot and add water to cover by a centimeter or two. In this case, four pounds of rice needed two liters of water. Slowly heat the mixture until it nearly boils, stirring constantly to keep the rice from burning. The rice will quickly begin to absorb the water and the mixture will thicken. Keep stirring.
After about ten minutes time, the rice will be sufficiently cooked. If you squeeze a grain in between your thumb and index finger, it will still have a slight firmness, but will not be chalky. Your senses are always a better timer than a clock. While I'm not exactly sure how it will effect the fermentation process, I don't suggest cooking it further. When steaming the rice, one is generally looking for a kernel that is 85% cooked. When simmering the rice, I've found that "slightly firm but not chalky" is a good indicator.
Take the rice off the burner and let it cool. Regularly stir the cooling rice to vent steam or, alternatively, spread the cooked rice out onto a baking sheet. As it cools, it will absorb any remaining liquid. The cooled, cooked rice is sticky and tends to clump, but the individual kernels will not disintegrate.
From this point, the process is the same as using steamed rice. Even though you added additional liquid during the cooking process, do not reduce the amount of liquid added for fermentation. If you are adding sweet potatoes (or any other ingredient) for flavor, incorporate it into the water and rice before adding the nuruk.
We'll post an update with the final product.