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Soju: the National Drink of South Korea

It is time to talk about the most popular liquor in Korea – Soju :

We all heard about this clear, low-alcohol, distilled spirit considered to be the best selling liquor in the world (according to CNN).

The biggest soju brand in Korea is Jinro (or Hite-Jinro, same company).

Jinro is the No.1 best selling liquor in the whole entire world and of course the majority of the liquor is consumed within South Korea.

This comes to no one surprise considering that South Koreans drink an average of 13.7 shots of liquor per week, more than anywhere else worldwide, according to a study made in 2014.

Known as Korea’s vodka- soju- is a drink usually fermented for two weeks and is drunk pretty much everywhere.

How is it made?

Traditional soju is usually made from a blend of rice and grains.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, using rice was banned in the production of this drink because it was in such short supply, as such they used other starches like sweet potatoes and wheat.

Traditional soju is still produced in Andong and other cities to this day using a blend of fermented and distilled rice and grains.

However, the modern soju that’s commonly available in Korea and overseas is often made from diluted ethanol produced from sweet potatoes.

Even though the ban is no longer in place, many producers look beyond rice for their starches.

How is it consumed?

Typically drunk out of shot glasses and imbibers don’t traditionally serve themselves. It is traditionally consumed neat, but  you can get a “somaek” which is a shot of soju in a beer.

There are also Soju-based cocktails (quite rare- but do exist).

These are extremely sweet and comes in a variety of exotic flavours.

Now we all agree you can’t have a drink without having something to eat (remembering how much Koreans love food). They say it’s unacceptable to drink alcohol without eating as the two acts have a rather symbiotic relationship.

Most Koreans will say that soju goes best with kimchi-based stews like budaejjigae and samgyeopsal:

Though they will eventually admit they drink it with everything and often enjoy it on its own.

There are also strict protocols about how it should be served.

The rules of drinking Soju:

  1.  You cannot serve yourself.
  2.  Somebody more senior must serve you.
  3.  You must hold your glass with both hands while being served.
  4.  You must down your first shot in one.

These are observed pretty much universally, with warnings of bad luck abounding if unobserved.

And now that we got that down … all that is left to say is : 건배 (geonbae)!

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