History of Soju (Distilled Alcohol)
In the 13th century, during the Goryeo dynasty, Mongol invaders brought soju (known as araki) with them. Araki is derived from the Arabic araq (liquor). Soju was originally developed in Arabia and passed through Mongolia on its way to Korea. Distilled liquor was new to Koreans, who were accustomed to fermented alcoholic drinks such as makgeolli. Mongol camps such as Kaesong, Andong, and Jeju Island are well-known soju-producing regions. During the late 20th century, soju flavored with lemon or green tea became available. The Japanese version is known as shōchū.
Soju, a clear, slightly-sweet distilled spirit, is the most popular Korean liquor. It is known as “a friend of life” and “the common people’s drink.” Soju is made from grains (such as rice, barley, and wheat) or starches, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and tapioca. Although soju is often compared to vodka, it has a sweet taste due to added sugar. The drink is usually served in a shot glass. It has a smooth, clean taste, and pairs well with a variety of Korean dishes. Soju is generally inexpensive; a typical bottle costs about ₩1,300, less than US$1.20. It typically has an alcohol content of 40 proof (20 percent alcohol by volume).
“Unlike industrial soju, which is produced by distilling the cheapest grains out there, then watering it down and throwing in some sweetener, traditional soju is fermented, filtered, and distilled—making each bottle is a time-consuming process. If you’re looking to gift Korean alcohol, ship it anywhere, or store it for more than a year, soju is your best bet. Most takju and yakju are unpasteurized, meaning that flavors will change and eventually degrade over time even when refrigerated (and their bottles are likely to explode on airplanes).” by Sonja Swanson/Esquire