What does soju taste like?

In this short article, we will answer the question “What does soju taste like?” and will show you contextual information about this Asian drink.

What does soju taste like?

Soju has a taste similar to sweetened vodka and is generally flavourless. It doesn’t exactly provide the same burn than vodka because of its modest alcohol content. 

It does have a mildly bitter aftertaste, which some individuals could find unpleasant. Soju can also be compared to fruit juice with alcohol because it has a sweet flavour.

What is soju?

The most popular drink in South Korea is soju, which means “burned alcohol” in Korean. It is regarded as a national symbol. When the Mongol Empire invaded Asia in the 13th century, its technique of manufacture made its way there. 

The Koreans enhanced the recipe by making rice the primary ingredient. Over time, the beverage has seen certain changes, including the development of many varieties of soju in the provinces and the modernisation of the process. 

The steps involved in producing traditional soju are shown below.

An overview of soju’s history

With the invasions of the Mongol Empire at the start of the 13th century, the soju distillation method was introduced to the peninsula during the Goryeo Dynasty. They brought arakh, a beverage from Arabia that gained popularity among the Mongols under Genghis Khan. 

When Korea was ruled by the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty, it was the Emperor’s grandson Kublai Khan who gave the arak to the Korean people. 

This occasion saw the introduction to Korea of the Persian beverage distilling method, which would later form the basis for the creation of soju. The high-alcohol distilled beverage was first produced in Korea utilizing rice, wheat, and barley. 

Because rice was one of the most important commodities at the time, soju took some time to become well-known in Korea, and its consumption was first concentrated in the top classes among nobles and monarchs. 

Soju eventually spread to the upper classes of society, and by the turn of the 20th century, Koreans were among the nation’s biggest consumers of soju. 

Production of the beverage was outlawed when Japan invaded the peninsula during World War II, and beer and sake grew in popularity in their place. The government passed a law forbidding the distillation of rice after Japan left Korea. 

The action was taken in the 1960s, following the end of the Korean War, when there was a severe food scarcity situation in the nation. Due to the restriction, producers used tapioca and sweet potatoes instead of rice in the soju-producing process.

Only in the 1990s did the Korean government once more permit the distillation of the beverage using cereal. Soju has undergone other changes as it has spread across the Korean peninsula, in addition to replacing rice. 

For instance, munbaeju (roughly, “wild pear alcohol”), a variety of soju popular in North Korea, is recognized for having a fruity pear-like aroma despite not being used in the drink’s preparation. 

To counteract the bitter taste of alcohol, soju in the Chungcheong Province of western South Korea frequently contains flowery components such as lotus leaves, azaleas, and chrysanthemum stems. 

This custom is also practised in other areas, such as Jeolla, where soju is made with pear, honey, and cinnamon. The hongju variety, meaning “red alcohol,” was created on the island of Jindo using medicinal herbs to give the beverage its distinctive red colour.

How is modern-day soju produced?

There are “traditional” and “contemporary” varieties of soju that have evolved and undergone several alterations. Due to the lengthy process of fermenting the rice and preparing the grain, making traditional soju might take weeks. 

Nowadays, ethanol is diluted with water to create soju, which is then sweetened. Soju may now be produced in large quantities without spending as much time or money as would otherwise be necessary thanks to this streamlined technique.

Women in South Korea have carried down the old art of manufacturing soju from generation to generation, but men are also in charge of the inspection. 

According to research, the technique performed in Andong, in the province of North Gyeongsang, is the one that is the truest to the “original,” brought to Korea by the Mongols.

How do you make soju?

The first step is to add water to the yeast derived from wheat known as nuruk (누룩). The two ingredients must then be combined to achieve a consistent consistency. 

They are then moved to a spherical mould and evenly compressed to take shape (this can be done with your feet or your hands). s a result, a kind of thick, uniform disc is produced that does not shatter when taken out of the mould. 

For three weeks, it should be placed in a corner to rest. The disk dries out in this section, and fermentation starts. Some farmers frequently leave their plants outside overnight to collect dew.

Rice doesn’t enter the picture till that point. The rice is steam-cooked, but not to the point of becoming soft; this keeps the rice crisp and prevents it from losing its consistency. Following that, it is kept in the shade to cool. 

Because producing soju with hot rice can result in a bitter beverage, the rice must be at room temperature. Going back to the nuruk disk, it must be crushed in a mortar until it becomes a thick powder since after fermentation it becomes as hard as a stone. 

The nuruk is then combined with the rice and water to create a uniform consistency resembling a puree. The combination is then put in a vessel to ferment for a further 12 days. The soju must be boiled in the soju Gori (소주 고리), a two-story distillation device, to filter it. 

The dough is used to fill in the holes to stop steam leaks. From there, liquid soju is released through a tube (seen in the picture above) and falls into an adjacent pot. The drink is heated by a fire created by the wood that supports the distiller.


In this short article, we have answered the question “What does soju taste like?” and have shown you contextual information about this Asian drink.


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