Geonbae! Quebec’s First Craft Makgeolli Brewery

One of only 2 makgeolli breweries in Canada, at the time of writing, Vrooden is bringing the unique taste of traditional Korean alcohol to Canadians. Carol Duplain, Founder of Vrooden and the creator of Geonbae Makgeolli, shares more about makgeolli in Canada and the trailblazing he’s doing to bring more of it to North America.

Carol Duplain began his brewing journey at his home in Quebec after shifting career paths from chemical engineering. With a focus on German lagers, Carol and his associates had the opportunity to present their product to an international beer judge, who recommended that they open a brewery. The rest is history. Sounds easier than it was, we’re sure.

Geonbae Makgeolli, Quebec, Canada
Photo Credit: Instagram @geonbaemakgeolli

In 2015, Carol opened his first brewery that quickly gained recognition for its unique taste. Although various other products were also introduced to build their portfolio, he kept the spirit of their original product, winning multiple international medals for beer. He won the World Beer Award for one beer in 2018, three beers in 2019, and two beers in 2020. In 2021, their 6th year of business, Vrooden produced 1600 hectolitres!

However, over time the market in Quebec became saturated with breweries, and to stay competitive, Carol designed a line of non-alcoholic beers. For the past 3 years, 30% of their products were alcohol-free due to the high demand from health-conscious consumers. The younger generation is also fueling the market for alcohol-free beer, and it was this trend that prompted him to take their beers mainstream across Canada.

Two years ago, inspired by two visits to South Korea, Carol ventured into the world of makgeolli. Captivated by the unique taste of makgeolli, and challenged by the lack of market in Canada, Geonbae Makgeolli was born. With the intention of introducing top-quality traditional Makgeolli to Canadian shores, Carol began importing nuruk. However, he soon struggled to recreate the particular taste he had found in Korea.

After a third and final visit to South Korea, where the main goal was to experience breweries and learn fermentation techniques, Carol returned to Quebec to spend time perfecting his own brand of nuruk with Canadian ingredients. In June of 2021, he began by brewing his first 100 liters of makgeolli, owing to his dedication to finding the right taste and consistency of the main ingredients: chapssal (glutinous rice) and nuruk. Carol has dedicated himself to the pursuit of retaining the Korean tradition throughout the stages of brewing, and aims to showcase this in his future endeavors.

Geonbae Makgeolli, Quebec, Canada

As for the makgeolli production itself, the Geonbae brand boasts a 4 stage fermentation technique, mixing water, rice, and nuruk until the final product is of the utmost quality. At the time of our interview, Carol revealed that plans for large-scale production of the Makgeolli brand had commenced, with the intention of exporting to Vancouver, British Colombia, and greater Montreal. Carol has also utilized his engineering background to develop his own equipment to be used during the fermentation process, with the ability to produce an estimated 1000 liters by this past November.

As one of the first producers of quality makgeolli in North America, Vrooden and its Geonbae product has experienced an influx of appreciation and demand owing to the large local Korean community. Currently, the majority of Geonbae’s sales are made exclusively to the consumer market, sitting at 90%. However, 10% of their demand can be attributed to their trade with Korean and non-Korean restaurants interested in selling makgeolli within their premises. While there is a high demand for this sales avenue, Carol intends to take small steps through the industry and continue to retain the quality of the alcohol.

When deciding on the logo to promote Geonbae, Carol wanted to embody the spirit of Korean culture through the use of their iconic magpie. This, paired with the name Geonbae, which translates to ‘Cheers!’ in Korean, gives the product an air of authenticity.

Geonbae Makgeolli, Quebec, Canada
Photo Credit: Instagram @geonbaemakgeolli

Carols and his team’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. On August 19, the Korean Ambassador Mr. Kim Sang Do visited Vrooden after trying Geonbae’s Makgeolli. According to an announcement made on their Instagram, the Ambassador was thoroughly impressed by the quality and success of sales in Quebec, and commended the efforts to introduce Korean tradition and history to Canada. This was an exciting achievement for Carol, and we applaud them for achieving such recognition.

For now, Carol plans to work hard to make Geonbae’s current product a popular commodity across Canada, but the plans for expansion once full production is underway are much more exciting. Carol intends to branch into Yakju production, and over time, introduce a lighter, fruit-flavoured makgeolli. This drink will be found in cans rather than the usual glass bottles, but will embody some of the original Vrooden beer packaging.

To find Vrooden for yourself and access their Geonbae makgeolli, check out their Instagram page and discover more information on their website. While there is no current international sale of Geonbae Makgeolli, we think it would be a great tourist opportunity to visit one of Vrooden’s locations in Canada to experience their beers and Makgeolli. Check out their website here.

We had a great time speaking to Carol and finding out more about his journey into the Makgeolli market, and we can all agree that it has been a massive step to become the first source in Canada for quality traditional Korean alcohol.

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