Makgeolii turning sour could be because of the rice moisture content, the temperature, and sometimes the mixing step.

Let's see some ideas below:

#1. Rice Is Watery

One reason for the sour makgeolli could be because the starting rice is watery. Overly watered rice could turn too soft, sticky (clumping up), making it hard to mix and absorb the yeast well. When it goes into fermentation, it can turn a bit sour.

Because of this, people make the rice more firm or more on the dryer side outside but the inside is still moist. You can soak the rice (which is said to reduce the gumminess), steam it for 40mins and let it sit in the steamer for 20 mins (so the steam can also dry its surface).

Alternatively, if you use a rice cooker, add the water level just a bit above the rice surface, so it's less water than the rice we'd normally cook to eat. Or if you cook the rice in a pot on the stovetop, some folks cook it for 15 mins on mid-high heat, simmer it on low for another 15 mins then dry in a dehydrator.

The rice for makgeolli again is firm on the outside but moist inside.

#2. Temperature Is High

Makgeolli going sour can be because the storing temperature is high. Some folks leave the makgeolli to sit near their stoves, and notice that the wine turns sour like vinegar.

While some sourness may be expected from homebrewed makgeolli, vinegar sourness is too sour as a balance of sweetness should also be noticed from the taste. During the yeast (nuruk) mixing step, if we mix it in when the rice is still hot, the end product may have some tartness in it.

To fix this issue, let your rice cool down below 25C / 77F before mixing nuruk in. As you let it ferment, sit it somewhere cool around 20C / 68F like under the shade of a tree, in a cool room/basement or if you have the place you can bury it underground.

#3. Mixing The Yeast (Nuruk)

Uneven nuruk mixing could lead to sour makgeolli. One reason for this could be the starch break down may be slower or uneven. This then can relate back to how the rice is made.

Overly sticky, wet rice can clump up easily, making it hard to coat yeast in evenly. Thus, slowing starch break-down and possibly making the makgeolli sour. But sometimes, it may not be the rice but just the mixing.

To solve this, remember to cook the rice not too wet but just moist enough, so it's not too sticky but can fall apart a bit. When mixing yeast, avoid clumping. And do the mixing in a not-too-windy place so the yeast won't fly off everywhere.

Understanding Nuruk

Inside the nuruk, besides traditional enzymes, mold and yeast, there is lactic acid bacteria (like those in yogurt). This is why the nuruk itself is sometimes savory yet sour and it creates that slightly tangy taste in the wine.

During the early stages, these lacto help keep other germs away from contaminating the batch because of the sour/acidic environment they create. You can stir the makgeolli in the beginning stage, this helps activate the lacto development. In some recipes where nuruk is not available and replaced with malt, some apple slices are added to provide the acidity.

As the batch goes on fermenting, this sour taste fades away and can be taken over by the sweet scent/taste of the sugar broken down from the starch. To some folks though, if they don't taste that slight tanginess from the rice wine, they think something might be missing. With this, the nuruk will give you an earthy, rich, apple or pear scent with more complex flavors.

How to Fix Sour Makgeolli (2 More Ways)

Making Multi Stage Makgeolli - Samyangju ~1 Month

The makgeolli that you usually see on market is single fermented makgeolli. That means, the makgeolli has gone through one stage of fermentation. There is also the two stage makgeolli, three stage makgeolli and so on. They call the three stage makgeolli 'samyangju'.

While single fermented makgeolli may get sour easily, these multi stage makgeolli does not turn sour easily. Another good news is, if we make a slight mistake in stage one, we can cover and fix it in the next stage. Although the making time is longer (about 1 month) and requires some more steps, it overall is not overly complicated and is recommended for beginners.

If you'd like to give samyangju a try, here are the basic ingredients/ratio you need:

  • 2kg rice/rice flour (wet-milled, no salt)
  • 400gr nuruk
  • 3kg sticky rice
  • 5L water

The nuruk is about 10% of the total rice weight (rice + sticky rice).

A note on the ingredients: You can use regular rice or rice flour as the foundation starch for the first two stages. We'll divide the rice and water amount in half for each stage. If you use rice flour, choose a no-salt one (not the one usually made for rice cakes). A wet-milled rice flour, that is one that has been soaked, drained then ground, will also help soften the starch.

For the nuruk, look for one with 300sp (or saccharification power) or higher so it converts a good amount of starch into sugar.

Going into the first stage, we'll start by using half the amount of ingredients, but still keeping the ratio the same.

Stage 1: 1kg rice flour + 2.5L water

Step 1: Make the rice dough

Sieve the rice flour through a sifter into a bowl. Finer flour will be softer so it cooks well. While sifting the flour, you can start boiling the water to save the waiting time. Then, we'll gradually add 2.5L of boiling water to the rice flour.

The thing about this dough, or aka beombeog as they call it, is we'll make it one half cooked and the other half uncooked. It's not fully cooked, like porridge, so it takes more time to brew. During this lengthened feed time, more yeast will have more time to develop, making the fermentation more stable.

To add water to the rice flour, you can eyeball divide it into four sections or little quadrants. Add water to one section, then mix. As the boiling water gets cooler during mixing, it will make the rice in one part cooked and the other part uncooked. Continue to mix for the rest three until well mixed to a doughey sticky texture.

When done adding water, leave the dough to rest until cold to the touch. It should be around 25C / 77F before adding the nuruk in. While waiting for the dough to cool down, we can begin sterilizing the jar getting ready for step 2.

Step 2: Adding nuruk

In step 2, you can start prepping by sterilizing the jar and tools using steam. You can use earthen jar or glass jar. If you steam sterilize the jar upside down, when you feel the bottom of the jar is very hot to the touch, it is good enough.

Keep the boiling water to clean the spoon or ladle to be used later. Note though, for wooden spoon, let it dry before using in the brew. Alternatively, you can use something like no-rinse StarSan to sanitize your brewing equipment.

When the rice dough has cooled down to temperature, we can start mixing the nuruk in (200gr). Mix well so it's well incorporated with the rice dough. You may have the dough sticking to your fingers. That's okay. The nuruk & dough need to be well mixed so they stay close together. This makes it easier for the microbes to work their magic through the starch. Mixing time could be 15min.

When the mixing is done, we can transfer the nuruk dough to the jar we've just sterilized. Wipe off any residue sticking to the mouth or wall. Place a breathable cloth on and put the cap on. Then put the jar on a book or tray, not directly on the floor, so drastic changes in temp won't affect it too much. Keep the room temp around 22-23C/71.6-73.4F. And let the jar sit there.

Checking for the next 48 hours:

  • After ~10hours, you may see a little bit of water coming out of the nuruk dough and yellow grains of nuruk are visible. It's like a thick soup at this point. You can give it a little stir for oxygen to help the yeast develop.
  • After ~22hours, it smells of sweet rice. There may not be lots of bubbles yet. Give it a stir.
  • After ~34hours, you may see more bubbles forming. Some sweet alcohol scent may be expected. In some batch, it could smell like well cooked grains.
  • After ~44hours, the batch may turn now mostly liquidy. There may be a faint smell of well cooked grains with some scent of fart. There is a sweet alcohol smell. Have a taste. If it tastes slightly sour, then we can move it to the next stage.

Stage 2 (48hours after Stage 1): 1kg rice flour + 2.5L water

We will add the remaining rice flour + water to this stage. With the rice flour + water, we will cook it like step one. Wait for it to cool down.

You can add one ladle of the liquid from the jar (we've been fermenting in Stage 1) to this new rice dough. Remember to filter out the nuruk grain residue from the liquid. Submerging long in the liquid, these grains can cause that stinky fart-like smell.

If the fermentation seems to go slow, you can optionally add in 100gr of new nuruk. Mix it with the rice dough together (about 30min), it will now have a soupey texture. Then, put it to the jar.

Checking after stage 2:

  • 10hours after stage 2, there may be lots of bubbles coming up. You can give it a good mix. It now has a sweet alcohol smell. Then, from now on we will keep the cap closed. Opening it for too long may make the batch go sour.

Then, we can move on to the last stage of the samyangju, adding in 3kg of sticky rice.

Stage 3 (24hours after Stage 2): 3kg sticky rice

If you like a sweeter-tasting makgeolli, you can add in more rice 4kg. If you don't like it sweeter, 3kg is also okay.

Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Wash it gently so the grains don't crack and maintain its shape.

Then, soak the rice in water for 2 hours. This helps soften the grain tissue so it's more well cooked, making it easy for enzymes and nuruk to work its way in. Let it drain for 30min.

While waiting for the rice to drain, we can begin boiling some water for steaming rice. Then, as the rice has been drained and water is boiling, steam it in a steamer for 40min (or 60min) and let it rest for 20min.

While the rice is steaming, you can filter the nuruk residue from the jar. Pour the content of the jar (we've been making through stage 1 & 2 now) out and screen out the nuruk leftovers in it through a sieve. Then, only pour the liquid back into the jar.

When the rice has been well cooked, we'll let it cool to 25C / 77F, then add it together with the liquid in the jar. Wash your hands very clean and mix the rice + liquid well. Mix well for 30min, avoid clumping for more even fermentation. Wipe off any part sticking to the jar. Close the lid. Let jar sit at 20-22C, avoid oxygen coming in at this stage.

Checking at Stage 3:

  • ~5 days later check, smells really good. Sounds of jar bubbling like boiling or raindrops. If you see some white pieces sticking to the jar wall, it is a sign of fermentation (bubbles popping the rice up). Clean the pieces to avoid contamination.

20 Days Later (After Stage 3)

You may see a clear yellowish liquid on the top. The rice grains now have fallen to the bottom of the jar. The liquor now has very a strong alcohol smell and volume.

There are several ways you can go from here:

  • If you have time, then the liquor will be good if you ferment it for another month. Then strain.
  • However, if the holidays are coming and you want to drink it with your friends and family, strain it at this point and ferment it in the fridge.

Straining the Makgeolli

To strain the makgeolli, you can use a cheesecloth, muslin bag or filter bag. It is good to use the finer material to filter out more of that rice residue from the makgeolli. It will give the makgeolli a softer texture.

The liquor now is just (mak) strained (geolli), makgeolli. It will have a high percentage of alcohol and by taste that could be ~20%. To make it taste better and lower the ABV, you can add water to it. Soft mineral water will give it a good taste. If you don't have that, you can boil water and let it cool or use filtered water from the water cooler.

Let the wine mature in the fridge for a week.

The Clear Yellow Liquor + The Opaque White Rice Wine

After only about 2 days in the fridge, you may see the liquor separate into different layers. The layer on top is clear, yellowish. It tastes like white wine and I believe it's called 'cheongju'. The bottom layer is the more opaque white makgeolli.

You can ladle out the clear liquid to drink or enjoy the white makgeolli separately. The white makgeolli now tastes sweet, you can definitely feel the alcohol in there, and there is not very much a sour taste. You'll feel the warm running through your body and it tastes amazing.

Alternatively, you can just mix the clear liquid with the white one (that's how the farmers used to drink it in the old ways, combining the layers with their pinkie finger before drinking) and it's still taste good.

If you take some clear yellowish liquid out, you can add in some more water to the rest of the white makgeolli. Keep it in the fridge for another week. When it's about done fermenting, you can bottle it to share it with friends and family. If you bottle it when it's not very much done fermenting, your friends may get some unexpected shoot up opening mess. :) It's a mess, it's a disaster.

The done makgeolli can be good for up to a year, if kept in the fridge. Very worth it for about 1 month of fermentation. You can enjoy the makgeolli over dinner, it tastes sweet, some slight tang like yogurt, with a note of dry alcohol wrapped up in the sweetness. An earthy, rich, apple or pear like scent with complex flavors. As makgeolli can give you that feeling of satiety, you'll like it with light food.

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