Disclaimer: The author does not have the knowledge to speak authoritatively on the following subject. So he’ll just speak on the following subject.
Today, I learned that according to the British magazine Drinks International, the top-selling spirit of 2008 was Jinro Soju, having sold 75.99 million boxes (9L each), outselling the runner-up Smirnoff Vodka by more than 50 million boxes. And apparently, it’s kept that position for 8 years straight. Impressive, no?
Soju is a fascinating drink. It’s a distilled spirit based on various starches (traditionally I think it’s rice but who knows) that is usually 20% ABV (or 40 proof), though it can go up to 40% ABV depending on the distillery. I’ve tried some high-quality soju and it is quite an experience. Kind of like a tastier version of the Chinese baijiu. But the thing is, Koreans love soju. A lot. In 2004, more than 3 billion bottles were consumed in Korea alone. In 2006, it was estimated that the drinking population of Korea (anyone 20 years or older) drank an average of 90 bottles a year per person. This is helped by the fact that the most popular brands of soju cost roughly 3,000 won a bottle (2-something dollars), and each bottle has enough soju for 7 and a half shots (every Korean knows this), so you can get wildly drunk for less than 10 dollars. You can’t really do that in the States, not in a respectable manner.
Then how does one drink soju? The traditional method is to sip it from shot glasses, which usually degenerates into people taking multiple shots, which is not that bad as long as the soju is chilled properly. If not, then TAKE IT LIKE A MAN! However, due to its comparatively low alcohol content, it is socially acceptable to drop a shot of soju into a glass of beer, or pour a bottle of soju into a pitcher of beer. The resulting drink is quite tasty and extremely bad for your liver, I imagine. Koreans also mix soju with other Korean alcohols. I personally do not approve of this practice. Also, soju is used as a base ingredient for all sorts of ‘cocktail sojus’, which are basically juice+soju, although there is the quite delightful ‘yogurt soju’. Now, most Westerners will associate the word ‘yogurt’ with the goopy yogurt that you mix with fruits and granola and call a healthy breakfast or frozen yogurt that you get at overpriced trendy frozen yogurt places, but that is not the kind of yogurt I’m talking about. That would be utterly disgusting. No, the drink that you mix with soju is technically called Yakult, a sweetened milk product that is considered fermented. It’s a really great mixer for drinks, and I’m surprised that they’ve only recently started airing commercials in the states. But I digress. Yes, soju can be consumed in shots, mixed with other alcohols, mixed with mixers (especially Yakult), or if you’re feeling rather tragically depressed, straight from the bottle. Just like any other drink, no? But recently, I’ve discovered that Jinro, the biggest producer of soju, has started producing soju that is stored in a carton much like a miniature juicebox. Well, actually, it is a juicebox. And it’s been a couple years since they started doing that, but I just recently realized its potential. I mean, it’s far sturdier than a glass bottle so you can carry more around while traveling, and the colors scheme is similar to that of a box of soy milk, so you can sip a bit on the street without arousing any suspicion. Well, until you started falling all over the place.
Yes, personally, I can’t stand drinking soju straight up in shots. Well, not until I’ve had a couple drinks. Then anything’s game. But if you really want to try out that smooth, slightly sweet taste of Korea’s finest most popular, ask a Korean friend to bring some back from Korea, cause they seriously jack up the prices in the States. I think it ha to do with taxes, I don’t know