I’ve never been much of a beer drinker, because even if it tastes refreshing, it always makes me feel weighted down later. Despite the many hard seltzer options on the market these days, I haven’t found one that has enough flavor. The Goldilocks of fizzy summer beverages is Makku, aka makgeolli, a sparkling Korean rice wine that I’ve been drinking all season.
Even though I’m Korean-American, I was adopted by white parents and never grew up around makgeolli (which is a big hit with older Korean folks). Its cloudy white appearance in a bottle at H Mart always perplexed me, and after a bad experience trying makgeolli that was too cloyingly sweet, thick as yogurt, and tasted like a peach ring, I opted to drink soju (another Korean-made alcohol) when eating at Korean barbecue restaurants.
Makku, a craft brand founded by Carol Pak in 2019, changed everything I thought about makgeolli. Pak came from the tech startup world, before creating the recipe with the help of her licensed herbalist mom, and she’s made something remarkably different from the rest of the makgeolli available in the States. It has a lovely effervescent fizziness that lingers on your tongue; it is creamy with a subtle rice flavor (akin to horchata without the warm spices); and it has a perfect balance of sweetness and a little tanginess. It goes down smooth and disappears quickly once you open a can—especially if you’re drinking to cool off on a hot summer day.
Before drinking it, you have to either shake the can lightly or pour it into a glass to make sure everything is mixed inside. The color and cloudiness of makgeolli makes it look kind of like plant-based milk, but you’ll be rewarded with something much more refreshing that’s lightly alcoholic (6 percent ABV—similar to most beers and ciders). In addition to the classic makgeolli, Makku also makes blueberry and mango flavors, which are slightly sweeter and more fruit-forward. Bonus: They have beautiful purple-blue and light orange hues when poured in a glass.
While you can definitely sip it right out of the can, you can also use Makku as a base for a low-ABV cocktail—Pak suggests it as a substitute for drinks that call for egg whites (it’s vegan!). The drink also plays well with citrus flavors, and you can add it to frozen cocktails for an extra-refreshing summer beverage. Below, Pak shares two of her favorite easy recipes.
Makku Blueberry Gin Fizz
3 oz Makku Blueberry
1 oz gin
1 oz simple syrup
1 oz fresh lemon juice
Shake ingredients and strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice. Garnish with basil.
1 can Makku Original
¾ cup frozen strawberries (about 6 whole)
1 cup ice
Juice of 1 whole lime (about 1 oz)
1 tbsp sugar or 1 oz mint simple syrup
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into glasses and garnish each with a lime wheel. Serves 2.
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