Vancouver Makgeolli has brewed and distributed quality traditional and flavoured makgeolli to Canadian consumers since 2003.
Recently, The Sool Company was fortunate enough to speak with Vancouver Makgeolli, a long-term makgeolli brewery in British Columbia, Canada. We were able to speak with the owner Lee Changyu and conduct an interview about who Vancouver Makgeolli is and what they do. Check out his responses below:
Q 1: 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 has been in operation for about 17 years before me. I worked in Korea for 10 years and was not very interested in alcohol. While deciding on Vancouver immigration and looking for a business, I found out that makgeolli breweries were on sale for business and began to look into them. I visited the market twice in one year, and I officially entered Vancouver in November 2019 and have been working ever since. There are three main reasons why I chose a brewery that was unfamiliar to me. The first is that the business has been maintained for 17 years. Whether the quality of makgeolli is high or not, it has been maintained for this period of time, and we judged that there is a customer base looking for the taste.
The second was that it was the only place in Vancouver that sells fresh, unpasteurized makgeolli in British Columbia. We thought there would be limited competition and a stable business because it is very difficult to open a brewery in Canada, so buying an established business was a good option. Third, one man was doing all the work at the brewery. This means that sales and the sales market were small. I didn't immigrate to make a lot of money, so I thought it would be nice if it was a business that I could do alone. After operating for about two years so far, I have been working with several employees and sales have risen a lot. Previously, 100% Koreans were customers, but now about 70% of our consumers are foreigners. We also deliver our makgeolli to 30 restaurants in Vancouver.r Initially, I was not interested in traditional liquor and did not 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.
Q 2: 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 import Nuruk from Korea. Before I took over, only rice makgeolli was on sale, but now we are making various flavours such as pumpkin (Halloween), peanut (year-end), and 12% chapssal makgeolli for chestnut, green grape, citron, and strawberry flavours.
Q 3: 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.
Q 4: What kind of response has there been from Canadian consumers about 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 are visiting for the first time every day. The most popular makgeolli is rice makgeolli and chestnut makgeolli.
In particular, 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. So, consumers purchase a lot of makgeolli for a special day 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.
Q 5: 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 speciality 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.
Q 6: 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. At 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 any 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 drink our makgeolli.
Q 7: 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.
Q 8: As it is coming up to Christmas time, do you have any events planned for the season or the near future?
We are preparing a gift set for the Christmas season. We think our customers believe makgeolli is a special gift because it is cheaper than other grape and white wines, and we are the only brewery selling makgeolli in Vancouver. As a short-term plan for the future, delivery is a convenient service as it can be easily purchased whenever customers want. Until now, there are only breweries with products that can be purchased with walk-in, so we plan to increase the number of places that can be purchased with delivery.
Q 9: 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.
We hope that you have enjoyed reading about Vancouver Makgeolli, and we want to support them in the future. We at The Sool Company also would like to include Van Mak's Instagram for our readers to check out.