Looking for makgeolli in Canada? While you may think it is a feat that is insurmountable, it might just be easier than that. Vancouver Makgeolli (밴쿠버 막걸리) has brewed and distributed quality traditional and flavoured makgeolli to Canadian consumers since 2003. Get them on your radar for Korean sool in Canada if they aren’t already! Recently, The Sool Company was fortunate enough to speak with the owner Lee Changyu and conduct an interview about who Vancouver Makgeolli is and what they do. Read on to see what we found out.
We heard that Van Makgeolli is the first traditional Korean alcohol brewery in Canada. Please introduce your business and tell us about what you do.
Vancouver Brewery, which I currently operate, is the first makgeolli brewery established in Canada in 2003. The former president was in operation for about 17 years before me. I worked in Korea for 10 years and was not very interested in alcohol actually. While deciding on Vancouver immigration and looking for a business, I found out that this makgeolli brewery was on sale for business and began to look into it. I visited the market twice in one year, and I officially entered Vancouver in November 2019 and have been working here ever since.
There are three main reasons why I chose a brewery that was unfamiliar to me:
Initially, I was not interested in traditional liquor and did not even know the distinction between raw and pasteurized makgeolli, but I felt lacking while doing business in this industry, and have been studying the art of makgeolli (more than my English!) and enjoying my work.
Tell us about your product line, what kind of makgeolli do you produce?
The representative makgeolli is rice makgeolli. We think Vancouver is a very good environment for making makgeolli environmentally. We use high-quality rice from the best granary in California, and use it to make makgeolli by purifying clean water from the Rocky Mountains, and we then import nuruk from Korea.
Before I took over, this brewery only produced and sold rice makgeolli, but now we are making various flavours including pumpkin makgeolli for Halloween, peanut makgeolli at the end of the year, and 12% chapssal makgeolli for chestnut, green grape, citron, and strawberry flavours.
Could you tell us a bit about how your product is made?
Our flagship rice makgeolli is an iyangju (two-stage fermentation) and our flavoured makgeolli is rice mixed with various ingredients. We are making enough product every day to be sold within three days, and the supplementary ingredients are using fresh local fruits. Our brewery is making fresh and healthy alcohol by collaborating with other small and local businesses.
What kind of response has there been from Canadian consumers when it comes to makgeolli?
The response is very good. Some of the people who used to drink pasteurized makgeolli before, are trying raw makgeolli. Now we predict that 20-30% of our customers each day are visiting for the first time.
The most popular makgeolli is rice makgeolli and chestnut makgeolli.
Young customers seem to prefer flavoured makgeolli to the original rice makgeolli, and I like to try various flavours of makgeolli little by little and give these products as gifts to see what people think. Our consumers tend to purchase a lot of makgeolli for special occasions and request gift packaging. Since our makgeolli is not a high alcohol percentage, many people find our products easy to drink.
Canadians without any family connection to Korea tend to find us through an interest in Korean culture, Korean friends, or seeing makgeolli in K-dramas.
We have seen your recent promotions of Peanut Makgeolli! Do you have any plans or anything upcoming for another release of flavour infusions?
Van Mak is developing flavours and marketing to young consumers in their 30s ensuring that we can maintain a relationship with these customers for the next 30-40 years. We are studying makgeolli infused with blueberries, a specialty of British Columbia, and a makgeolli tailored to Chinese tastes. We are also considering expanding the market to other states such as Calgary, Toronto, and the United States.
What food do you recommend to pair well with your Makgeolli? Do any Canadian dishes pair well? How about Western dishes in general?
If you look at the menu of restaurants in Vancouver where makgeolli is frequently sold, there is makchang sundaeguk, jokbal, and seafood pajeon sold alongside it. From 4-6 p.m. every day at the brewery, this is the time when customers flock to Van Mak the most, but when asked what food they often eat, we hear a variety of answers. Few people drink makgeolli with Korean food, and they seem to enjoy it with their usual dinner menu. So, I think Van Mak pairs well with a variety of foods.
In particular, Vancouver experiences an extended rainy period every day for six months from October to March. It is during this time when it is a perfect atmosphere that we recommend Canadians to drink our makgeolli because as you know, Koreans love to drink makgeolli on rainy days.
We know that the food and beverage sector took a hit during Covid. How has Van Makgeolli been impacted by Covid?
In February 2021, we took over the acquisition and started making makgeolli. In the early days, we wanted to reach out to our individual customers to let them know.
I started through SNS, and since this is the only place in British Columbia where unpasteurized makgeolli is sold, I also actively began to inform delivery services so that they could easily access our products.
Because of COVID-19, people spent more time at home and the Canadian government provided many economic subsidies, so it was a really busy period. Alcohol that wasn’t common in Vancouver came out and became popular. Even those who knew of rice makgeolli before enjoyed this more when various makgeolli flavours came out.
Finally, do you distribute around Canada? How can customers find your products and experience Van Makgeolli?
In Korea, alcohol can be purchased anywhere in convenience stores, but in Canada, alcohol cannot be sold at marts and convenience stores, and can only be purchased at liquor stores. Our makgeolli is still available only in Vancouver, as well as in Korean restaurants and Chinese restaurants. Customers can also purchase our makgeolli online at vanmak.ca.
For More Information