An Innovative Approach to Traditional Processes

Boksoondoga is a traditional turned contemporary rice wine brewery led by Minkyu Kim’s concept of ‘fermentation architecture’

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Located in Ulsan, a city in the south east of South Korea, Boksoondoga is a small family-run winery that prides itself on producing authentic makgeolli, a traditional unfiltered, carbonated rice wine, usually home-brewed and made with nuruk, a Korean fermentation starter. Once regarded as a farmer’s drink, the alcoholic beverage is now embraced by a younger generation who appreciate its lower alcohol level and health benefits. 

The Boksoondoga brewery was started by brothers Minkyu and Minkook Kim and is set within a picturesque landscape of rice paddies and mountains in the village of Eonyang. It was here that their grandmother first started making her own home-brewed makgeolli for friends and family at home. The tradition and recipe was then passed down to her children, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the Kims thought to produce and market the beverage to a wider audience – Minkyu as the architect and brand designer of the winery and product, and Minkook leading the fermentation and production of Boksoondoga makgeolli on a larger scale.

‘Today Korea is very global, and people know what’s going on outside the country, but there isn’t enough communication internally between our cities and the countryside. I really believe that makgeolli can be a medium to connect our local communities, and more globally, by sharing the technical, historical and cultural know-how of its production,’ says Minkyu Kim.

While studying architecture at Cooper Union in New York, Kim based his final thesis on a concept he termed ‘fermentation architecture’. According to him, this concept revolves around the parallels between fermentation changing the characteristics of organic matter, and the potential for spaces to change for the benefit of people who use it. In line with this, a defining characteristic of Boksoondoga’s product is not only its commitment to using local ingredients, but its dedication to including the local community. 

Kim’s approach to designing the winery was heavily influenced by the production process, materials and characteristics of the product itself. The single-storey brewery sits on a piece of land originally used for farming. The exterior is composed of burnt rice straw — a by-product of makgeolli production — and is reinforced with exposed straw ropes. Decay and decomposition are natural outcomes and an intended part of the design. The material choice is based on how farmers used to cultivate natural straw by burning it in rice paddies after the harvest, with the dark colours of the facade intended to represent this process.

According to Kim, the brewery aims to incorporate elements of fermentation in order to extend the concept of ‘fermentation architecture’ into other forms of art. He hopes that traditional and local materials like rice, soil, charcoal, straw and yeast can be translated through other mediums and become different facets of Boksoondoga’s collaborative efforts. 

Kim has also opened a Boksoondoga restaurant within the F1963 cultural complex in Busan. Here, fermentation and farm-to-table dining combine, continuing his contemporary take on traditional methods and recipes. 

Text / Irene Lam 
Images / Courtesy of Boksoondoga

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