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Soju 101

Soju is a Korean spirit, with a history that dates back to around the 1300s. But it’s now gaining popularity away from home.

It’s (arguably) the world’s best selling liquor – and for good reason.

It holds a strong place in Korean culture and life, with South Koreans consuming an average of 13.7 shots of spirits per week (that’s twice as much as Russians – if you’re counting!).

And what are those 13.7 shots? You can bet that most of them are Soju, which accounts for 97% of the South Korean liquor market.

With people from South Korea being the fourth-largest group of working holiday-makers and tenth-largest market of short-term visitors to Australia, it’s no wonder that Soju is finding a place on Australian shelves.

What is it?

Soju is a clear liquor traditionally distilled from rice, although a rice shortage in the 60s saw the recipe evolve to include things like barley and sweet potato. Now, you might see a mix of rice and barley on the ingredients list.

While it’s probably not proper to say so, think of it like a more viscous, slightly sweeter vodka.

The name means ‘burned liquor’ – because it’s distilled at a high temperature – although a traditional soju will give a bit of burn too! At 20% to 40% alcohol, it’s not for the faint hearted. Flavoured varieties – which can be quite sweet – tend to sit at the lower end of the alcohol range.

How do I drink it?

Soju is usually served neat.

However, as Soju’s footprint expands in countries like Australia, and with more flavours being added to the line-up, it’s becoming more common to see Soju served with a mixer. This is quite removed from the cultural significance that Soju takes on in South Korea.

In South Korea, drinking soju is a shared experience.

It’s used to celebrate everything from a christening to a funeral, and every function in-between. There is a ceremonial aspect to Soju drinking – you do not pour your own glass, you should always receive a drink with two hands to indicate respect, and you almost always take your drink as a group. Rules of politeness will see glasses being filled again and again – no one would want your glass to go empty.

Where do I start?

Jinro is the brand that earns Soju it’s reputation for being the world’s most popular liquor – it’s the most-purchased liquor brand in the world.

If you’re new to Soju, maybe start with a fruit Soju. With flavours like apple, grapefruit, blueberry and plum, you’re likely to find one that you’ll enjoy.

Or, if you really want to try something new, try ‘Somaek’ – soju plus maekju (beer).

Our research (and Wikipedia!) say that the ratios vary greatly – but it seems like a ratio of 1 part Soju to 3 parts beer is fairly common. Finish it off with a trick that will seem very odd to Aussie drinkers. With a spoon or chopstick, tap down on the centre of the glass. This will agitate the beer and cause it to froth, making the somaek more ‘smooth’.

Give it a go and let us know how you enjoyed it!