Soju is the best known liquor from Korea. It is distilled, vodka-like, rice liquor with high potency and often flavored similarly. It is smooth and clean in taste, which makes it easy to drink in combination with various Korean dishes. The main ingredient of soju is rice, almost always in combination with other ingredients such as wheat, barley, or sweet potatoes. Soju is clear-colored and typically varies in alcohol content from 10% to 25% proof. It was first known to have been distilled around 1300 A.D.
Soju is the Korean equivalent of the Japanese sake. That said, Jinro is known to be the largest manufacturer of soju which recorded a sale of 70 million cases in 2004. And during that year, more than 3 billion bottles were consumed alone in South Korea!
Because of its ready availability and its low price relative to other alcoholic beverages, soju has become one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in both Korea and Asian restaurants & bars offseas. Flavored sojus such as lemon, watermelon and apple are known to be popular.
Years ago, when Korea was primarily an agrarian society, farmers would break their toil with a bowl of the cloudy rice wine makgeolli (막걸리). This historic association is why the beverage is also known as nongju, with “nong” meaning farmer in Korean. As Korea has urbanized, however, today makgeolli is also popular among young and stylish customers in Seoul or Busan’s most cosmopolitan districts. Served along tasty cuts of pork belly or fried onion pancakes, Korea’s oldest traditional liquor has made a comeback
Also called “takju,” after its cloudy appearance, makgeolli is made by steaming glutinous rice, barley or wheat with water and the fermentation starter, nuruk. Unlike other traditional clear liquors like soju or cheongju, makgeolli isn’t distilled after fermentation, hence its milky, opaque appearance. Frequently enjoyed from a humble ceramic bowl, makgeolli’s low alcohol content – typically in the six to seven percent range – makes it a popular alternative to higher-proof spirits.