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Korean Soju for Bartenders

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Korean Soju for Bartenders

Korean Soju for Bartenders

What’s the best selling liquor brand in the world? As a bartender, you could be forgiven for assuming it’s a popular spirit, like, say, Smirnoff Vodka. Or Gordon’s London Dry Gin. However, the planet’s top-selling liquor brand couldn’t be further from these much-loved European spirits. In fact, research reveals that the first and third most popular liquor brands – in the world – are Korean, and are called Jinro and Lotte soju.

Soju is the staple-drink of every serious Korean barfly.  So popular is this spirit that 61, 380, 000 boxes are guzzled per year. With Korean pop music invading the airwaves, marked by the Gangnam Style obsession of 2012, it may be time to start paying attention to this formidable drink. Here are some essential soju facts for bartenders.

What is soju, anyway?

Soju tastes remarkably similar to vodka. However, most soju brands are sweeter and much “easier to drink” than their cousins from Russia and Sweden. This is why soju is so popular – it’s lighter in alcohol than vodka, but still guaranteed to trigger a memorable night out. It’s also unbelievably cheap. A small bottle of soju – purchased from any 24-hour convenience store – oscillates around 2000 Korean Won. That’s one dollar and eighty cents in Australia!

Refined it is not. Soju is a rough and ready drink that is best enjoyed around a boisterous dinner table laden with greasy barbequed Korean pork and spicy cabbage. In Seoul – undeniably the “S(e)oul” of soju – it’s common to see red-cheeked people riotously laughing around street-side tables each decked with five or six or seven empty bottles of the stuff.

Soju is traditionally made from rice, but these days, anything goes. Popular brands are created from potatoes, wheat, barley, sweet potato and even tapioca. Bottles range from 17% to 45% in terms of alcohol strength.

The History of Soju

Soju was introduced to Korea in the 13th century. It was made according to distillation methods brought over by Mongol invaders, who had, in turn, picked up the practice from Persia. Some traditional soju brands, like arak-ju, are still made according to these ancient means.

Famous Soju Brands

We’ve assessed the overwhelming popularity of soju brands like Jinro and Lotte. Other, “classier” brands can also be purchased from Korean liquor stores. Chamisul, for instance, is a quadruple-distilled soju variation that has enjoyed immense popularity amongst more discerning soju drinkers. Other types of soju are flavoured with herbs, spices and other ingredients. Ipsaeju, for instance, is a delicious and easy-to-drink variation that is infused with maple.

How to Enjoy Soju

Most Koreans insist that soju be enjoyed neat in straight, small shots. If that sounds like too much of a challenge, rest assured that there are many soju cocktails to ease the burn. Soju cocktails are often presented in pitchers, and have the same slushy consistency you’d find in a frozen margarita. Popular flavours include mango, kiwi and pomegranate.

Hard-drinking students, however, love to mix soju with other liquors. “Somaek,” for instance, is the stable drink of university get-together, and involves the submersion of one soju shot in a glass of beer. It is to be drunk swiftly and efficiently, ideally without a trip to the bathroom immediately afterward.

If this has piqued your curiosity, why not look out for soju in your area? Some Korean food emporiums, for instance, stock soju along with a range of other tantalizing Korean liquors.

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