The first time Big Star bartender Maria Carlin tasted makgeolli—an alcoholic Korean beverage made from fermented rice—she was about eight. Her grandmother, Ok Sun, used to make it. “She would invite church ladies over and they’d come and pray and sing and drink makgeolli.”
At the time, Carlin didn’t particularly like the “funky” white liquid she discovered in the refrigerator, but she did develop an appreciation for it as she got older. By then, though, her grandmother had become more religious and stopped making it.
So when Matty Colston of Parachute challenged Carlin to create a drink with makgeolli, she had to find a different source for it (also, her grandmother is no longer alive). She considered making it herself, but ran out of time. Instead she turned to a local source: Slow City Brewery in Niles, which is the only company in the Western hemisphere that makes the drink. Carlin describes the beverage as having “a creamy, yogurty taste, a little citrus; you get kind of a wine-y note from the yeast.”
The last time she had makgeolli, Carlin recalls, she thought that it would be good in a riff on a Ramos Gin Fizz. “The funny thing is that most Asian people are lactose intolerant, and a Ramos Gin Fizz has cream in it,” she says. Instead of cream, she used makgeolli. And she replaced the savory notes of gin with smoky mezcal: “The smokiness is going to pair really well with the makgeolli.”
Carlin says that she also thought about what flavors go well with Korean cuisine, which led her to add ginger syrup to the drink. When you taste it, she says, “you get that yeasty, yogurty flavor from the makgeolli, then you get a little bit of ginger in the middle, and on the back end you get the smoke from the mezcal.” She named the cocktail after her grandmother: the Ok Sun Fizz.
Ok Sun Fizz
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz lemon juice
1 oz ginger syrup
2 oz makgeolli
1 oz mezcal
1 egg white
Orange flower water
Add the first six ingredients to a cocktail shaker with a couple dashes of orange flower water and ice. Shake for two to three minutes (the Ramos Gin Fizz was traditionally shaken for 12 minutes on relay, Carlin says, but “ain’t nobody got time for that”). Pour a little soda water into a Collins glass, add the cocktail, and top with cucumber soda and a couple drops of orange flower water.
Carlin has challenged Patrick Smith of the Violet Hour to create a cocktail with black sesame seeds.