The drink is proving especially popular with Japanese women in their 20s and 30s, according to Satoshi Shida, director of marketing for Jinro Japan Inc., the South Korean liquor company’s Japanese unit.
Women have taken to the drink because makgeolli is marketed as a liquor and a health drink. Its alcohol content is between 6 and 7 percent and is known for its high fiber, protein and vitamin levels.
“We are targeting and promoting makgeolli for joshikai,” Shida said. Joshikai refers to women-only get–togethers, usually in restaurants, to enjoy eating, drinking and talking. “The sales have gone beyond our expectations.”
According to the Korea International Trade Association, makgeolli shipments from South Korea to Japan were 1,300kl in the first 10 months of 2010, which is double the amount from a year earlier. Jinro had hoped to sell 100,000 cases of Jinro Makegeolli for the year, but that target was achieved in only two months.
By the end of 2010, the company had sold nearly 800,000 cases. Jinro introduced Makgeolli throughout Japan in March 2010.
Masako Hayashi, a 29-year-old woman who works for an IT company in Tokyo, loves the drink. “It’s a little bit sweet, smooth and not very strong,” she says. “I usually drink it when I go to Korean restaurants.”
Makegolli is not the only run away Korean success in the Japanese alcohol market. Some types of Korean beer sell out instantly, as soon as they hit the shelves. The secret is their low cost. A 250 milliliter can costs only 88 yen. Because of a loophole in Japan’s alcohol laws which tax beer on the method of brewing, some Korean beers, which use a different method of brewing than Japanese beers, are able to slip onto the shelf at super markets close to tax free compared to their Japanese counterparts.
The Japanese also have their own type of milky sake called “yogore sake” but its seasonal and is only available in the period when they are cleaning out the brewing barrels in preparation for the next year’s batch of sake.
Makgeolli is the oldest liquor in Korea, made from glutinous rice, barley, flour and wheat, steamed and mixed with yeast and water, then fermented. In Korea the latest variations in stores of makgeolli are ginseng, black bean, grape, tangerine and garlic makgeolli. It even comes in an ice-cream pack.