from left, a soju flip and a starry night photo by Izaiah Johnson

Why soju should be your new vodka

Think the best-selling liquor in the world is vodka? Bourbon? Think again. Korean soju has topped the list for years. In 2017, the HiteJinro brand sold 44 million more cases than its closest competitor (a Thai cane spirit), according to the International Wine & Spirits Research group. 

Despite international popularity, soju has been little more than a blip on the local radar. But that’s beginning to change, as several brands are making inroads into the St. Louis market, like West 32, an American take on the spirit out of New York, and Jinro, which offers variations infused with subtle flavors like grapefruit and green grape.  

Read More // A Spirited Asian Invasion: Far East drinks migrate to the Midwest

Soju is traditionally distilled from rice, but now often incorporates other grains like wheat, buckwheat and barley. Some have a bit of added sugar and most are low ABV. Traditionally, soju is imbibed straight with food, but cocktail culture has started to embrace the spirit. Its light body and crisp, clean flavor make it an appealing substitute for vodka and some gins in classic cocktails like the Collins and the French 75.

“It has a lower ABV but more texture and mouth feel than most vodkas,” said Tai Nalewajko, beverage director at The Blue Ocean. He frequently uses the spirit in his drink recipes for this reason. Plus, the lower alcohol level makes guests amenable to ordering more than one cocktail. Nalewajko said he’s also seeing an uptick in locals who want to experience the spirit straight. 

Pick up a bottle to try, or make these simple cocktails to experience soju’s versatility. 

Soju Flip 
This cocktail is based on the tamagozake, a hot Japanese sake drink similar to a toddy.
1 serving

1½ oz. soju
1 egg 
1 Tbsp. agave nectar 
3 oz. coconut milk
Grated nutmeg, for garnish

• In a shaker, combine all ingredients and dry shake (without ice). Add ice and shake again. Strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

Starry Night
1 serving

2 oz. soju
¾ oz. palm sugar simple syrup (recipe follows)
½ oz. Marukan ponzu citrus marinade*
Club soda
Lime twist, for garnish 

In an ice-filled shaker, combine the soju, simple syrup and marinade. Shake vigorously, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with club soda. Garnish with the lime.

Palm Sugar Simple Syrup
4 to 5 ounces

1 50-g. palm sugar disc*
3 oz. water

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the palm sugar and water. When the disc dissolves, remove the saucepan from heat and let cool. Strain the simple syrup into a bottle and refrigerate.

* Available at United Provisions in University City

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine.

Tags : Cocktails