Soju is a clear distilled Korean liquor containing about 20 percent alcohol. It has a strong, slightly sweet flavor that reminds me a bit of Japanese sake. I love soju. My husband – who spent nine months in Korea while in the Air Force – thinks I’m crazy. He tells me I’m one of only a handful of non-Korean Americans who can even swallow the stuff, much less enjoy it! But as usual, my husband is wrong.
Korean culture in general is now becoming very en vogue in the U.S. In fact, Soju is becoming so popular that it’s even sold at Dodger’s Stadium. Part of the reason this libation is so accessible is its low alcohol content. In most cases, all that is needed to sell it is a beer and wine license, which is easier and less expensive to secure than a full liquor license.
Twenty-six year old travel enthusiast, Josh Littleton, recently returned from Korea where he worked for three years. Although not of Korean descent, three years was long enough to get a good feel for the significance of soju to Korean people. “Korea has a different drinking culture than in the United States,” Josh explains, “and soju is the drink of choice. Everyone drinks it, regardless of income or social status.”
Soju was traditionally made from rice but it now commonly contains wheat, barley, or sweet potatoes. It can be flavored in much the same way as vodka, with lemons, watermelon, or any number of palate pleasing selections for connoisseurs who prefer variety.
My favorite treatment is a soju kettle replete with lime sections served at the Pho 32 restaurant in Manhattan’s Midtown. The kettle will serve two or three drinkers, and the magical elixir is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step – as long as you don’t overindulge. Josh says that, “Business directors in Korea often invite their male staff members out for soju after work with the sole intention of getting them drunk. It is common to see middle-aged businessmen stumbling home under the influence as early as 8:00 p.m.”
Josh also explains that soju is dirt cheap in Korea at about $1 US per bottle. Its price point is a bit more inflated here in the States. I recently paid about $6 per bottle at my local ABC store in Virginia. But even at six times the price, it’s a good value when considering that ounce per ounce, the alcohol content of soju is about four times higher than the average American beer.
For those looking for a trendy buzz, soju offers a much more affordable option than those pricey flavored martinis that have made their way into bars all across America. Just be careful – soju packs a pretty hefty punch. So travel with a designated driver and leave your keys at home.