Although it's not well known in the West, soju is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Asia. It was distilled in Korea as long ago as the 13th century, although it's unclear whether it originated there or was brought to the region by invading Mongols. It is also distilled in Japan, where it is called shochu.
Soju is sometimes compared to vodka for many reasons. Both are clear neutral spirits, and both are traditionally consumed in their native cultures. Although soju is traditionally made from rice, it is sometimes distilled from soba, barley, sweet potatoes or tapioca. Each of these base ingredients will create a slightly different flavor in the finished product. Soju also is sometimes infused with additional flavors, much like flavored vodka.
Soju is normally 50 to 75 proof, so it is slightly lower in alcohol than spirits like whiskey, rum, or vodka. It is traditionally sipped straight or sometimes combined with water, juice, or tea. Because it is a neutral spirit, it can easily be substituted into most cocktail recipes. Soju has a lighter and more delicate flavor than many spirits, though, so mix with lighter flavors to avoid overpowering it.
Drinking soju is usually a social activity, and there are several customs that are normally followed. For instance, in Korea it would be against custom to fill your own glass as it should be filled by someone else at the table. Your glass wouldn't be refilled unless empty, but it should be refilled promptly, since it is considered rude to leave someone with an empty glass.
Using both hands to offer or accept items is a sign of respect. If you are pouring soju for an elder or a superior, it would be respectful to hold the bottle with both hands. To pour, hold the bottle in your right hand, with your left hand touching your right forearm or sleeve. If your glass is being filled by an elder, it is proper to rest the glass on your left palm and hold it with your right hand. Using just the right hand to pour or receive is appropriate between equals.
Soju Cocktail Recipes
- 1 1/2 oz. soju
- 1 1/2 oz. sake
- 1/2 oz. cherry syrup
- 1/4 oz. coconut syrup
- Dash of vanilla syrup
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve garnished with a fresh cherry.
- 1 part soju
- 1 part melon liqueur
- 1 part fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain over fresh ice in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with an orange slice.
- 2 oz. soju
- 1 oz. Rose's lime juice
- Soda water
Add soju and lime juice to an ice-filled highball glass and stir to combine. Top off with soda water.
Tokyo Iced Tea
- 3 oz. lemon soju
- 1 oz. chilled unsweetened tea (oolong is recommended)
- Fresh lemon
Pour the shochu and tea over ice, and add a squeeze of fresh lemon. Serve garnished with a lemon wheel.
- 90 years of soju
- Moving beyond the green blur: a history of soju
- TheBeerLady Speaks: Something new - meet Shochu
Photo: Graham Hills, used under CC2.0 license