Soju (//; from Korean: 소주; 燒酒 [so.dʑu]) is a clear, colorless distilled beverage of Korean origin. It is usually consumed neat, and its alcohol content varies from about 16.8% to 53% alcohol by volume (ABV). Most brands of soju are made in South Korea. While it is traditionally made from rice, wheat, or barley, modern producers often replace rice with other starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.
Bottle of Chamisul soju with a branded glass.
|Country of origin||Korea|
|Region of origin||Andong|
|Alcohol by volume||16.8‒53%|
Soju (소주; 燒酒) means "burned liquor", with the first letter so (소; 燒; "burn") referring to the heat of distillation, and the second letter ju (주; 酒) referring to "alcoholic drink". In 2008, "soju" was included in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster dated the word's appearance in the American English lexicon at 1951. In 2016, the word was included in the Oxford Dictionary of English. Chinese shāojiǔ (烧酒), more commonly known as báijiǔ (白酒), and Japanese shōchū (焼酎), with the altered second character, are the words with the same origin with soju.
Another name for soju is noju (노주; 露酒; "dew liquor"), with its first letter ro (로; 露; "dew") likening the droplets of the collected alcohol during the distilling process to dew-drops. Some soju brand names include iseul (이슬), the native-Korean word for "dew", or ro (로; 露), the Sino-Korean word for "dew".
History and productionEdit
The origin of soju dates back to the 13th century Goryeo, when the Levantine distilling technique was introduced to the Korean Peninsula during the Mongol invasions of Korea (1231–1259), by the Yuan Mongols who had acquired the technique of distilling arak from the Persians during their invasions of the Levant, Anatolia, and Persia. The distilleries were set up around the city of Gaegyeong, the then capital (current Kaesong). In the surrounding areas of Kaesong, soju is still called arak-ju (아락주). Andong soju, the direct root of modern South Korean soju varieties, started as the home-brewed liquor developed in the city of Andong, where the Yuan Mongol's logistics base was located during this era.
Soju is traditionally made by distilling alcohol from fermented grains. The rice wine for distilled soju is usually fermented for about 15 days, and the distillation process involves boiling the filtered, mature rice wine in a sot (cauldron) topped with soju gori (two-storied distilling appliance with a pipe). In 1920s, over 3,200 soju breweries existed throughout the Korean Peninsula.
Soju referred to a distilled beverage with 35% ABV until 1965, when diluted soju with 30% ABV appeared with South Korean government's prohibition of the traditional distillation of soju from rice, in order to alleviate rice shortages. Instead, soju was created using highly distilled ethanol (95% ABV) from sweet potatoes and tapioca, which was mixed with flavorings, and sweeteners, and water. The end products are marketed under a variety of soju brand names. A single supplier (Korea Ethanol Supplies Company) sells ethanol to all soju producers in South Korea. Until the late 1980s, saccharin was the most popular sweetener used by the industry, but it has since been replaced by stevioside.
Although the prohibition has been lifted in 1999, the cheap soju continues to be made this way. Diluted soju has showed a trend towards lower alcohol content. The ABV of 30% fell to 25% by 1973, and 23% by 1998. Currently, soju with less than 17% ABV are widely available. In 2017, a typical 375 millilitres (13.2 imp fl oz; 12.7 US fl oz) bottle of diluted soju retails at ₩1,700 (approximately $1.66) in supermarkets and convenience stores, and for ₩4,000‒5,000 (approximately $3.91‒4.88) in restaurants.
Several regions have resumed distilling soju from grains after 1999. Traditional hand-crafted Andong soju has about 45% ABV. Hwayo (화요) is a brand with five different mixes constituting an ABV range from 17% to 53%.
In 2000s, soju started to dominate the world's spirit market. Jinro soju has been the largest selling spirit in the world for more than a decade. Two other soju brands, Chum Churum and Good Day, featured in the top 10, and three other soju brands are present in the top 100 global spirits brands of 2016.
Koreans have very strict rules of etiquette in drinking soju. When receiving a glass from an elder, one must hold the glass with two hands (left palm at the bottom and hold the glass with the right hand) and bow the head slightly. When it is time to drink, the drinker must turn away from the elder, and cover the mouth and glass with their hands. The first drink must be finished in one shot. When the glass is empty, the drinker hands it back to the person who poured the drink for them and the drinker then pours them a shot. This starts a series of glass and bottle passes around the table.
Soju outside KoreaEdit
There are a number of soju brands directly outside the Korean Peninsula for the ethnic Korean population, and most use rice as the foundation since the price is significantly cheaper than in South Korea. Soju from North and South Korea, from firms like Jinro, is also imported.
Liquors in Canada are subject to regulations that vary from province to province. In Ontario, the provincially run Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) sells soju, but not all outlets carry it. The LCBO sells a variable number of different kinds of soju, there are usually 3 or 4 different brands carried in the system at all times. Not all LCBO locations have soju,since the LCBO introduced online ordering it can be ordered for home delivery anywhere in the province. Almost all Korean restaurants with an AGCO liquor license sell it.
In other Canadian provinces liquor sales may be privatized or semi-privatized. In Alberta, for example, a liquor store may carry dozens of brands of Soju.
The liquor licensing laws in the states of California and New York specifically exempt the sale of soju from regulation relating to the sale of other distilled spirits, allowing businesses with a beer/wine license to sell it without requiring the more expensive license required for other distilled spirits. The only stipulation is that the soju must be clearly labeled as such and contain less than 25% alcohol. This has led to the appearance in the United States of many soju-based equivalents of traditional Western mixed drinks normally based on vodka or similar spirits, such as the soju martini and the soju cosmopolitan. Another consequence is that the manufacturers of similar distilled spirits from other parts of Asia, such as Japanese shōchū, have begun to re-label their products as soju for sale in those regions. Jinro's American division has partnered with Korean pop star PSY to promote Soju in the U.S., and in 2013 partnered with the Los Angeles Dodgers to sell Soju at its games.
Jinro is the largest manufacturer of soju accounting for half of all white spirits sold in South Korea. Soju accounts for 97% of the category. Global sales in 2013 were 750 million bottles; the second-largest spirits brand, Smirnoff, sold less than half that number. The most popular variety of soju is currently Chamisul (참이슬 - literally meaning "real dew"), a quadruple-filtered soju produced by Jinro, but recently Cheoeum-Cheoreom (처음처럼, lit. "like the first time") of Lotte Chilsung (롯데칠성) and Good Day (좋은데이) of Muhak (무학) are increasing their market share. However, the popularity of brands varies by region. In Busan, C1 Soju (시원 소주) is the local and most popular brand. Ipsaeju (잎새주 - "leaf alcohol") is popular in the Jeollanam-do region. The Daegu Metropolitan Area has its own soju manufacturer, Kumbokju, with the popular brand Cham (참). Further north in the same province, Andong Soju is one of Korea's few remaining traditionally distilled brands of soju. On the Special Self-Governing Province of Jeju-do, Hallasan Soju is the most common brand, being named after the island's main mountain Mt. Halla. In Gyeongsangnam-do and Ulsan, the most popular is Good Day (Hangul: 좋은데이), produced by Muhak in Changwon. However, as soon as one crosses the border from Ulsan north to Gyeongju in Gyeongsangbuk-do, it is almost impossible to buy White Soju, and the most popular brands are Chamisul and Cham. In Korea Since 2015, the new kind of soju is very famous and popular. the new trends of soju are fruit soju and sparkling soju.
New American producers are entering the market. Some, like West 32 Soju, with initial market penetration in major markets like New York, are finding critical success, with West 32 Soju winning a gold medal at the 2017 New York International Spirits Competition.
Although beer, whiskey and wine have been gaining popularity in recent years, soju remains one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Korea because of its ready availability and relatively low price. More than 3 billion bottles were consumed in South Korea in 2004. In 2006, it was estimated that the average adult Korean (older than 20) had consumed 90 bottles of soju during that year. In 2014, it was reported that South Koreans of drinking age consumed an average of 13.7 shots of spirit per week; the figure for Russia, in second place, was 6.3. By contrast consumption in the U.S. was 3.3 shots, Canada was 2.5, and the U.K. 2.3 shots.
While soju is traditionally consumed straight, a few cocktails and mixed drinks use soju as a base spirit. Beer and soju can be mixed to create somaek (소맥), a portmanteau of the words soju and maekju (맥주 beer). Flavored soju is also available. It is also popular to blend fruits with soju and to drink it in "slushy" form. Another very popular flavored soju is yogurt soju (요구르트 소주), which is a combination of soju, yogurt, and lemon lime soda.
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