By Mike Thayer
Soju, the adult beverage of choice in Korea.
I enjoyed my fair share of Soju while in the Air Force and stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea back in the day. Clear (that means colorless for those of you who live in Valley Center), this spirit is traditionally made with rice along with sweet potato and tapioca, carrying a punch back then anywhere from 35% to 95% alcohol by volume. I think that was part of the appeal of the Soju served at the 100+ bars just outside the base gate, you didn't know how strong the Soju was from bar to bar. Typically served mixed with fruit punch, this stuff could really hit you.
I haven't had Soju since returning to the states from South Korea years ago. When dining at Wasabi East one night with fellow foodie Vicki S., I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the drink menu, a mixology of blueberry flavored Soju, Malibu Rum and lime juice. It was dangerously smooth.
I didn't realize that Soju had become somewhat popular in the states in recent years and was available at some liquor stores in the area. Vicki suggested I visit Jacob's Liquor Exchange West, where she works part time. Jacob's has a nice selection of Soju in a variety of flavors.
Flavored Soju is new to me. Back in the day in Korea, it was simply the potent ethanol concoction, mixed with fruit punch to take the edge off. Soju has come a long way, getting away from the sweet potato/tapioca high alcohol content blends and back to the more traditional rice distillation with lower alcohol content and the addition of fruit flavors.
In a visit to Jacobs Liquor, I picked up a couple 375ml bottles of Soju produced by Jinro, the most popular brand of Soju on the planet. Selecting the plum and strawberry flavors, here are the descriptions from the Jinro website:
Jinro Plum Soju adds a playful splash of plum flavors to the clean taste of Chamisul Fresh. Plum lovers rejoice! Jinro Plum Soju is a neutral spirit with natural and artificial flavors.
Jinro Strawberry Soju provides the sweet taste of ripened strawberry in each sip while maintaining its light and refreshing experience. Jinro Strawberry Soju is a neutral spirit with natural and artificial flavors.
The Soju of today is very different from what I consumed back in the day, but in a good way. My military buddies and I would joke about how we were embalming ourselves by drinking the stuff, it could really be harsh, despite the mix with fruit punch. Today's Soju is much more refined. At just 13% alcohol by volume, there's no harsh bite and you appreciate the fruit flavors that is part of the distillation process. Yesterday's Soju was consumed for the buzz, today's Soju is to be sipped and actually enjoyed.
Costing me about $6 for a 375ml bottle, I'm giving Jinro Soju, both the strawberry and plum flavors 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars. Each flavor tastes good neat, but they're even better and especially good in mixology. Combining a flavored Soju with Malibu rum and/or a berry flavored Vodka along with a squeeze of lime makes for a very tasty cocktail. I look forward to sampling the blueberry flavor next!
$pend Wisely My Friends...
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