What is soju?
Soju is a clear, low-alcohol, distilled spirit that is the most popular liquor in Korea. If you haven't heard of it, well then you've got a blind spot, because it's been the best-selling liquor in the world, according to CNN. Perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise considering South Koreans drink an average of 13.7 shots of liquor per week, more than anywhere else worldwide.
How is it made?
Traditional soju is made from a blend of rice and grains. From the 1960s to the 1990s, using rice was banned in soju production because it was in such short supply, so sojus were made with other starches like sweet potatoes and wheat. Even though the ban is no longer in place, many soju producers look beyond rice for their starches.
How is it consumed?
In Korean company, soju is typically drunk out of small glasses and imbibers don't traditionally serve themselves. "It's very interactive," says Simon Kim, the owner of Cote, a new and buzzy Korean steakhouse in New York City, which serves four premium sojus and uses the liquor in cocktails. "I pour you a glass, you pour me a glass, we toast, drink, and then do it all over again." Since it's about 20-percent ABV, it sits somewhere between wine and harder booze like gin and whiskey in terms of potency.
What does it taste like?
"Rubbing alcohol", "Watered-down vodka" is another way to describe the flavor. The taste can vary, but in cocktails you'll see it used as a vodka substitute.
How much does it cost?
Next to nothing, which probably explains its popularity. "Money is never an issue when it comes to drinking in Korea, because you always have soju," Kim says. In Korea it's about $3 per 375-milliliter bottle.