A Very Brief History of Soju

Soju

Since I have already covered soy sauce, a beloved ingredient of Korean cuisine, now I feel like it is time for that inevitable post about another superstar that is just as popular in Korea. Yes, I am talking about the famous Soju itself. It is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the world and certainly the most popular one in Korea. So let’s take a closer look at this tasty poison that’s been the favorite of Koreans for hundreds of years!

What does it mean?

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Soju (燒酒) means “burn liquor”. That’s a very appropriate name as it’s alcohol content may be up to 45%. Most bottles fall in the range of 20-40%. Merriam-Webster dictionary dated the appearance of the word in American-English lexicon at 1978.

Where did it come from?

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The ancestor of Soju is called Arak. It is a distilled alcoholic drink from the eastern Mediterranean. It is the traditional alcoholic drink in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Israel. It is believed that Mongolian invaders brought arak to Koryo in 13th century, which developed into soju in time. Soju was first created in Andong.

So what’s in it exactly?

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As the photo above suggests, the main ingredient of soju is rice. Speaking of rice, you might hear some people referring to soju as rice liquor. Personally, I don’t encourage that use as it might bring to minds certain other beverages as well(such as baiju of China or Korean rice wine cheongju) and create confusion. Soju is a very popular name so it would be better to call the drink by it’s unique name. Wheat or barley may also be used as ingredients combined with rice.

How do you make it?

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The answer to that question would be that you don’t, you just buy it. But as that would be a cheap joke, let’s talk about the method of making soju. Soju is a distilled beverage. That is one of the main differences between soju and Japanese rice wine, sake, which is a brewed beverage and quite often compared to soju. The classic way of making soju uses the single distillation method while the modern way uses the chain distillation method. The classic method brings out a stronger smell, and it’s product is more popular mostly due to it’s lower price in market.

Andong Soju

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Andong soju is a type of soju made in Andong, South Korea. It is quite strong, coming in at 40-45% alcohol by volume. It has a traditional family recipe that uses high quality rice for fermantation and tastes more natural than the mass-produced sojus. Andong soju is usually presented as a gift during the holidays in Korea.

Some Facts

Now the basics are covered, let’s finish with some fun facts!

  • When drinking soju with your friends, you never fill your own glass.
  • If you are receiving soju from someone older than you, you hold your glass with your both hands.
  • If you mix a shot of soju with a glass of beer, you have yourself a cocktail called Somaek.
  • If you mix soju with cola, you get Socol.

And that’s it. I hope you liked it. See you on another post!

Photos: Graham Hills

Tim Green

Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

Steven Jackson

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