Farm Woo Bo Project
Last year I wanted to experience the whole process of making alcohol from rice to cup. Luckily, my husband knew a farmer from Farm Woo Bo that was running a farming program that teaches people how to grow rice. Farm Woo Bo has over one hundred different ancient varietals of Korean rice. They keep a detailed history of each variety including where in Korea it was historically produced. Once I learned I could grow one of these ancient varietals myself I couldn’t contain my excitement and began thinking about what type of rice and recipe I would choose for this project.
In late April of last year we started by choosing our rice and sprouting the seeds. Even though they have over one hundred varietals of rice we only got to choose from 4 different types. We went with one called Buk Heuk Jo or Northern Black rice, which was named because it is a black rice from the northern part of Korea. It was originally produced in a region close to what is now Pyeongyang, North Korea.
Buk Heuk Jo is a mepssal, or non-glutinous rice, and since it was a little sweeter than the other options so we chose it for this project. Brews made with all mepssal tend to be rather dry. On the other hand, brews made with a combination of mepssal and chapssal, glutinous rice, tend to be a little sweeter. Since I could only choose one type of rice I wanted to go with a mepssal that was a little sweeter than other options in hopes that this would make a brew that wasn’t too dry.
To help the work go smoothly we split up into teams of about 6 people each and since my husband and I were only a team of two we joined another team consisting of some families and other solo people. It was wonderful to meet new people and learn why they were interested in this project. One of the mothers from our team joined after her daughter asked her where rice comes from and one father wanted an activity he could do with his wife and daughter. It was fun to work with them and see the kids running around in the dirt and helping out.
In early June we returned to the farm to plant the sprouts by hand. Over the past few months the seeds had sprouted about 4-5 inches and we needed to transfer them from their trays into the rice paddies. These days this is done by machine but in order to get the full experience of how rice was grown back in the Joseon Era we all banded together to plant them by hand. It was hard work and by the end of the day we were exhausted but it was fun to feel part of a community and work together to get something done.
After that, all we had to do was wait. We waited a few months for the rice to grow and occasionally my husband and I would visit the farm in Goyangsi, just northwest of Seoul, to check on our rice babies and see how they were doing.
Finally, in late October it was time to harvest which, again, we did by hand. We used sickles to cut down the rice and then bundled them up with the stalks and left them in the field to dry for a few days. We also learned how they removed the rice from the stalk by running it through a line of metal tongs. We even had races to see who was the fastest. It was draining work but everyone was in good spirits the whole day. I couldn’t wait to get my rice in a few weeks.
For this project, I wanted to use a recipe that also had a deep history so I went to one of the quintessential texts on Korean alcohol and food for inspiration, the Eumshik Dimibang. Originally written around 1670 in the Joseon Dynasty it was authored by a noblewoman, Jang Kyehyang, to pass on her knowledge of cooking and brewing. I chose the first recipe in the Eumshik Dimibang, Soon Hyeong Ju Beop, which roughly translates to “Thick Aromatic Alcohol Method”.
I chose this recipe because I had learned a variation of it that used only mepssal. And since my rice, Buk Heuk Jo, was mepssal it would work well with this method. The technique for preparing the godubap with this recipe is slightly different than normal. Typically you just steam the rice but in this recipe, that I learned from the Korean Liquor Lab, you need to stop in the middle of steaming, wash the rice with cold water then continue to steam it.
Using this method and rice I was pretty satisfied with the results. The brew was thick and dry but with a touch of sweetness, which is what I was looking for. The takju (cloudy part) was very thick but cheongju was really aromatic and flowery. This recipe really lives up to its name and makes a very thick, aromatic drink.
1kg ground mepssal
1 L water
150g nuruk (ground)
Wash and soak rice for 3 hours
Drain rice for 30 minutes
Grind rice and sieve to remove lumps
Steam ground rice to make a rice cake (dduk) for 15-20 minutes. *Note when steaming rice cake make sure the steaming cloth is dry
Add 1L of boiling water and mix thoroughly
Cool to 25°C
Grind nuruk and sieve to remove large bits
Weigh out 150g ground nuruk
Add ground nuruk and cooled bekseolgi together.
Add to a sterilized brew vessel and let ferment for 3-5 days or until ready
1.5 kg of mepssal
1.5 L water
Wash and soak rice for 10 hours
Drain rice for 30 minutes
Steam rice for 1 hour
Remove from heat and pour 500ml of cold water through the rice. *Take the steaming basket off and pour the water over the rice. *Do over a sink ** BE CAREFUL OF STEAM when removing the steamer basket
Put the rice back on the steamer and steam for an additional 20 minutes
While rice is hot add 1.5L of boiling water to steamed rice. *Be careful while mixing not to burn yourself
Let rice cool to 25°C and add mix in mitsool and 100g of nuruk
Add to clean and sterilized brew vessel and let ferment for 2-3 weeks or until ready