I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve heard of makgeolli, but have you heard of dongdongju? It's made of the same ingredients as makgeolli yet goes through a slightly different filtering process that results in a more grainy drink from its brother counterpart.
Let us introduce our first friend, makgeolli. The main ingredient makeup of this drink is rice and nuruk, which is a Korean fermentation starter. Like many other drinks, it can come in a variety of flavours such as chestnuts and different fruits or herbs. And just like most other Korean fermented products, the fermentation happens in large clay crocks called onggi. Of course, since this is an alcoholic beverage, there is an alcohol content with this one ranging from 6-7% making it less strong than soju. The distinguishing look of makgeolli is its very milky opaque appearance.
Our second mysterious friend is dongdongju. The name is derived from two words, dong which means ‘floating’ and ju which means ‘alcohol’. The reason for the name is that when dongdongju is served, it contains pieces of rice. When the dongdongju is strained from the onggi, it allows pieces of rice to filter through letting them end up in your cup. On the other hand, makgeolli is strained so that there are no pieces of rice.
Dongdongju is also considered a premature drink since its fermentation process happens quicker than average taking approximately 2-4 days. This way the rice doesn’t break down during the fermentation, allowing it to stay whole and float atop of your cup. If we were to compare the distinguishing flavour of makgeolli and dongdongju, it is said that dongdongju is slightly sweeter and clearer.
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Let me explain the brewing process in a little more detail. While the alcoholic drink is fermenting in the onggi, there is a separation process that happens. Thus, the brew is separated into 3 different layers: the bottom layer takju becomes makgeolli once it’s mixed with water; the middle layer is called cheongju which can be distilled to make soju, and the outermost layer consists of the rice particles. During the retrieval of the different layers a wicker basket is used, and due to its structural design it lets through pieces of rice which make up the dongdongju. Now you have your brew of fermented rice with a nice texture to keep you company. Cheers!