Updated: Nov 14, 2019
What is Makgeolli?
If you attended our Season 3 launch event, you'll have tried Makgeolli. It's the sweet, milky, tangy, alcoholic drink that was mixed in with lychee slushy, courtesy of Grace Street Cafe and Makku.
For those of you who haven't tried makgeolli, it is the oldest alcoholic beverage in Korea and it's similar to a sweet, fragrant rice wine. The rice particles are only roughly filtered so the beverage remains a milky white. In fact, makgeolli literally means "roughly filtered" in Korean.
After discovering it on her trip to Korea, Carol Pak fell in love with the drink and was shocked to discover that makgeolli was only marketed to seniors in America. Inspired to share this drink with her friends in the states, Carol started brewing her own makgeolli and thus Makku was born.
Carol's Origin Story
Rock The Boat: Where are you from and how did your upbringing influence your career choice?
Carol: I was born and raised in Flushing, Queens, a dominant Asian immigrant community. It was a weird place and time for me to grow up in America, as I never felt like a minority, and was more in tune with K-pop and Korean culture, (as opposed to American pop culture). So my Korean ethnicity was integral to my identity.
As first generation immigrants, our parents had sacrificed so much to move to the States, and thus they idolized the 'American Dream': the one where you go to an ivy league school, become a lawyer or doctor, stabilize your income, and garner power and respect. However, the roots of my community was in small business and entrepreneurship. The laundromats, nail salons, delis and beauty supply stores were our families' source of income, and so we were more accustomed to 'reaping what you sow' rather than working to climb up the corporate ladder.
I always had the entrepreneurial bug in me, and wanted to do something to give back to my community, but it took some time for me to figure out my career path. After dabbling in non-profits, government, and tech startups, I found my way into the beverage world, and discovered makgeolli during a trip to Korea.
While it was our country's oldest alcoholic beverage, it seemed to be growing increasingly out of favor in Korea. It was a fortuitous point in my life, since I was looking to find something that could leverage my Korean heritage, entrepreneurial spirit and beverage industry knowledge. So I thought I should see where Makku could go.
The Creation of Makku
Rock The Boat: What problem are you trying to solve with Makku?
Carol: In the US alcohol market, beer's market share has been steadily declining for over a decade. This is a direct result of the growing millennial population, which is becoming more diverse. These consumers are looking for new products and flavors, beyond craft beer. Makku is an alternative for beer, alongside hard ciders and seltzers.
Rock The Boat: What is the most challenging thing you had to overcome to create Makku?
Carol: Makgeolli production is very difficult because it is such a niche and unknown product. We had to find a small brewery in the US to prove the market out before signing on with a large makgeolli brewery in Korea. The licensing, trial batches, and transitioning was mentally, physically and financially difficult.
Rock The Boat: Carol you actually mention that you attempted to brew several failed batches before your mother, a licensed herbologist, stepped in and successfully brewed a batch in her own kitchen using traditional brewing techniques and natural ingredients. You also did several test rounds of product research in Korea before getting the product right.
Rock The Boat:With all the challenges of launching a food product, what advice do you have for our readers?
Carol: Take care of your mental and physical health, take personal time, there is definitely such thing as balance. I don't move as fast as I could, but I don't want Makku to consume or define me, which is something harder to not do. You only live once and you're young.
Rock The Boat: That's great advice and something you should definitely focus on. It's also very on theme for season 3! For a list of mental health resources, check out our mental health post as well as our conversations with Jon Chang, Dana Wang, Karen Mok, and David Mou. Finally Carol, we ask our signature question, what does "rocking the boat" mean to you?
Carol: If you want a smooth sail, I would stay away from unchartered territory. Launching a new brand is hard enough, but launching a new category (makgeolli) requires a lot of patience, education and resources.
Where is Makku available?
Makku is available in NY, NJ, and LA, in addition to online for New York customers. A list of your nearest locations are available on their website at www.drinkmakku.com/pages/find-us.
Rock the Boat readers get free shipping! Just use code SHAKEAMAKKU at checkout [NYC ONLY]
Must be 21 to purchase.