Bottle of Chamisul soju with a branded glass.
Soju (Hangul 소주; Hanja 燒酒) is a distilled beverage native to Korea. Jinro and Lotte soju are the first and third top selling alcohol brands in the world. Its taste is comparable to vodka, though often slightly sweeter due to sugars added in the manufacturing process. It is usually consumed neat.
Most brands of soju are made in South Korea. Though it is traditionally made from rice, most modern producers of soju use supplements or even replace rice with other starches, such as potatoes, wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.
Soju is clear and colorless. Its alcohol content varies from about 16.7%, to about 45% alcohol by volume (ABV) for traditional Andong soju, with 20% ABV being most common. It is widely consumed, in part, because of its relatively low price in Korea. A typical 375mL bottle of soju costs the consumer 1,000 to 3,000 South Korean Won in South Korea (roughly $1 to $3 United States Dollars). In the USA, it tends to cost substantially more – $5 or more.
Soju was first distilled around the 13th century, during the Mongol invasions of Korea. The Mongols had acquired the technique of distilling arak (aragh) from the Persians (Iran) during their invasion of Central Asia/Middle East around 1256, it was subsequently introduced to Koreans and distilleries were set up around the city of Kaesong. Indeed, in the area surrounding Kaesong, soju is known as arak-ju (hangul: 아락주).
From 1965 until 1999, in order to alleviate rice shortages, the Korean government prohibited the traditional distillation of soju from rice. Instead, highly distilled ethanol from sweet potatoes and tapioca was mixed with water, flavoring, and sweetener to create soju. Although the prohibition has been lifted, cheap soju continues to be made this way. The Korean government regulates the alcohol content of diluted soju to less than 35%, but alcohol levels have continued to fall in order to reduce production costs. The lower alcohol concentration also makes the drink milder to consume, which may broaden its appeal.
The liquor licensing laws in the states of California and New York specifically exempt the sale of soju from regulation relating to the sale of other distilled spirits, allowing businesses with a beer/wine license to sell it without requiring the more expensive license required for other distilled spirits. The only stipulation is that the soju must be clearly labeled as such and contain less than 25% alcohol. This has led to the appearance in the United States of many soju-based equivalents of traditional Western mixed drinks normally based on vodka or similar spirits, such as the soju martini and the soju cosmopolitan. Another consequence is that the manufacturers of similar distilled spirits from other parts of Asia, such as Japanese shōchū, have begun to relabel their products as soju for sale in those regions.
Jinro is the largest manufacturer of soju. (76 million cases sold in 2008). The most popular variety of soju is currently Chamisul (참 이슬 - literally meaning "real dew"), a quadruple-filtered soju produced by Jinro, but recently Chum-Churum (처음처럼 - "like the first time") of Lotte BG (롯데) is raising its market share. However, the most popular brands vary by region. In Busan, C1 Soju (시원 소주) is the local and most popular brand. Ipsaeju (잎새주 - "leaf alcohol"), is popular in the Jeollanam-do region. The Daegu Metropolitan Area has its own soju manufacturer, Kumbokju with the popular brand Cham (참). Further north in the same province, Andong Soju is one of Korea's few remaining traditionally distilled brands of soju. On the Special Self-Governing Province of Jeju-do, Hallasan Soju is the most common brand, being named after the island's main mountain Mt. Halla. In Gyeongsangnam-do and Ulsan, the most popular is White Soju (hangul: 화이트소주), produced by Muhak in Masan. However, as soon as one crosses the border from Ulsan north to Gyeongju in Gyeongsangbuk-do, it is almost impossible to buy White Soju and instead the most popular is Chamisul and Cham.
Although beer, whiskey, and wine have been gaining popularity in recent years, soju remains one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Korea because of its ready availability and relatively low price. More than 3 billion bottles were consumed in South Korea in 2004. In 2006, it was estimated that the average adult Korean (older than 20) had consumed 90 bottles of soju during that year.
While soju is traditionally consumed straight, a few cocktails and mixed drinks use soju as a base spirit. Beer and soju can be mixed to create somaek (소맥), a portmanteau of the words soju and maekju (맥주 beer). Flavored soju is also available. It is also popular to blend fruits with soju and to drink it in "slushy" form. Another very popular flavored soju is yogurt soju (요구르트 소주), which is a combination of soju, yogurt, and lemon lime soda.
Another cocktail is called kojinkamrae (고진감래). It is the same as the poktanju above but includes a shot of cola (1 shot soju, 1 shot cola, 1 glass beer).
An Abominable Killer Snowmen is a popular cocktail containing soju. It consists of 1 oz. of soju, 1 oz. of Rose's lime juice, and 1 oz. of sour mix combined together in a highball glass. The glass is then garnished with a cucumber.
- Andong soju
- Korean alcoholic beverages
- Rice wine
- Korean cuisine
- Korean beer
- TY KU
- Oghi (distilled beverage)
- Merriam-Webster new words for 2008
- "Moving beyond the green blur: a history of soju". JoongAng Daily.
- "History of Soju" (in Korean). Doosan Encyclopeida.[dead link]
- "90 Years of Soju". Asian Correspondent.
- Soju Goes Where Vodka Cannot Tread, Los Angeles Tims, 27 June 2002. (Accessed February 2011)
- What is Sochu?
- 3.05 billion bottles were reported sold in 2004, up from previous years. "Cigarette Sales Surge to Historic High". Chosun Ilbo. Retrieved 2005-06-29.[dead link]
- "Let's Have a Soju Tonight". KBS World. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
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- Popular alcohols from Korea
- Learn more about Korean Soju
- Andong Soju
- Doosan Soju
- Jinro Soju's English-language web page
- Marketplace Report – Soju sidesteps US liquor laws