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Soju: Taking a Look at the Traditional South Korean Spirit

Soju: Taking a Look at the Traditional South Korean Spirit

If you ever visit South Korea and go to a bar, chances are pretty high that many of the drinks on the menu will be the national distilled spirit, soju. This clear grain beverage has since become quite popular, and today it’s exported to many different countries around the world. The next time you visit Liquor Barn, make sure to check out our selection of soju; in the meantime, here are 12 interesting facts about this Korean spirit.

  1. Soju is traditionally made from rice, but because of rice shortages in Korea during the 1960s alternative grains including wheat, barley, potatoes, and tapioca were used as ingredients instead.
  2. Soju means “burned liquor” in Korean. The first letter (so) refers to the distillation process, while the second letter (ju) refers to alcoholic drink.
  3. The first soju was distilled during the 13th century Goryeo dynasty, when the Mongol invasion of the Korean peninsula introduced the process of distilling to the natives. The Mongols themselves learned about distillation because they invaded modern-day Turkey, Iran, and the Middle East, where raki/arak had been distilled for quite some time.
  4. Rice wine made from rice soaked in water for two weeks before being boiled in a cauldron called a sot.
  5. Cheaper soju is made from 95% ethanol, usually derived from sweet potatoes or tapioca, which is then diluted with water, flavorings, and sweeteners.
  6. The prohibition against making soju with rice was in place until 1999; since then, traditional soju-making has resumed to great fanfare around the world.
  7. The ABV for soju varies widely, with many bottles sold in markets containing less than 17%, while hand-crafted brands may carry up to 53%.
  8. When you drink soju in company, it’s normally handed to you in a shot glass. You are expected to drink it in one shot, rather than sip.
  9. The largest manufacturer of soju in South Korea is Jinro, which makes almost exclusively soju.
  10. Globally, 750 million bottles of soju were sold in 2013; as a matter of perspective, Smirnoff, one of the world’s most popular spirits companies, only sold half that entire number of bottles of vodka.
  11. Since soju commonly contains less than 25% ABV, it is particularly popular in the states of New York and California, where state liquor licensing boards exempt businesses from needing a liquor license to sell it.
  12. While it’s normally consumed straight, soju bombs and soju fruit slushees are two popular cocktails