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Adventures And Misadventures in Homebrewing

The gurgling, wheezing and squealing had continued for several hours. I laid awake trying to ignore those pitiful, desperate pleas coming from a dark corner of the room, but to no avail. Then, just as the sun came up when I had given up all hope of getting any sleep, came the bang…

…and then silence.

Excuse the dramatic opening but seeing as this is my first blog post on what will predominantly be about my adventures and misadventures in the brewing of Korean alcohol (Sool), I thought a dramatic re-telling of my most recent incident would make a catchy beginning.

As a co-founder of The Sool Company and as a managing partner for Makgeolli Mamas & Papas – the community that birthed The Sool Company – I have had the rare and lucky opportunity to get my hands on and experience a style of fermentation that remains mysterious even to many people from its originating country.

The last four years have seen myself and our community members visiting bars, breweries; elderly guardians of an mostly forgotten traditional craft as well as the growing ‘colony’ of a new generation of students and brewers who are rediscovering and reviving the techniques and recipes of years gone by, in order to breathe new life into a stagnant industry dominated by huge conglomerate breweries.

I’ve taken what I’ve learned from these masters, enthusiasts and lovers of Sool and tried my best at making these lessons an alcoholic reality. I have learned so much from a variety of teachers and tried to synthesize them into a common brewing practice. However, the more I learn the more I see how much there is still to know!

 

Matters are complicated further by the nature of Sool being a partially lost art. With many details of recipes and brewing techniques having been lost to history, a lot of contemporary brewing have differing schools of thought and interpretations of the way to produce the best results. Meaning that a lot of recipes and techniques should be mastered in multiple different ways… and rice isn’t cheap. 

In terms of how I put those techniques to good use, I am lucky in that I can produce larger quantities of sool in the facilities where we study brewing and where we teach our brewing classes here in Seoul. However, due to practical reasons I still do a lot of my brewing at home. Anyone who has lived in Korea will know that the apartments are tiny and the kitchens make it challenging to cook, let alone store and wash kilos of rice, and have vessels of booze fermenting on every available surface.

Which reminds me, we started with a story, which you deserve to have explained….

I heard a saying once that there are two types of brewers in the world. Ones who have had their ceilings coated in what they are brewing, and those to whom it was bound to happen soon.

I have had many a ‘makgeolli shower’ in my time, ruining clothes, bags, carpets and fermenting vessels due to the explosive buildup of CO2 and the swelling of rice in the early parts of fermentation.

The aforementioned wheezing and bubbling were originating from a brew which I had expected to have some degree of explosive risk. I was greedy, I tried to make too much and I used too much of a powerful nuruk based starter. Most importantly my only available vessel was a couple of liters shy of optimal volume.

I moved the vessel from the shelf to the floor in order to reduce the messy impact of the inevitable yeast-grenade.

This blog will be a place for me to share with our audience some lessons I’ve learned, what I am currently brewing, and also a place for anyone who is dipping their toes (or fingers – for hygienic reasons) into the world of homebrewing Sool, to ask any questions you may have about, well, anything brewing related. I would be happy to write a more detailed post about something you are particularly interested in finding out about Sool.

Now, time to clean up the floor…

 

Dan is a Korean traditional alcohol specialist with a focus on brewing science. He currently manages and instructs the advanced level classes of the Susubori Academy where he completed his study in Brewing Biochemistry. He also studied under Grand Master Park Rok Dam.

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