The makgeolli craze is growing overseas. Exports of the traditional rice wine amounted to US$6.28 million last year, up 41.9 percent from 2008 and nine times greater than $705,000 in 1999, according to the Korea Customs Service on Sunday.
In December exports totaled $1.2 million surpassing the $1 million mark for the first time. By volume outbound shipments climbed 35.7 percent compared to 2008 to 7,405 tons in 2009.
Japan is the epicenter of the growing trend, thanks to the Korean Wave effect. It took up 86 percent or $5.4 million worth of the total exports last year, while the U.S. accounted for $463,000 and China $139,000. Vietnam and Australia imported $109,000 and $37,000 worth, respectively.
Meanwhile, imports of wine and whiskey dwindled in 2009 due to the popularity of makgeolli and the economic recession. Wine imports fell 32.5 percent on-year to $112.45 million, with the volume dropping 21.1 percent to 23,009 tons. It is the first decline in wine imports since the financial crisis of the late 1990s.
French wine accounted for $36.56 million or 32.5 percent of the total imports, while Chilean wine came in second at $24.18 million and Italian third at $17.69 million.
Consumption of whiskey also dropped amid the recession, with imports falling 24.8 percent from 2008 to $195 million in 2009.