Soju is a clear distilled beverage from Korea which is traditionally made from rice. The literally translated ‘burn liquor’ is South Korea’s most popular alcoholic drink today with a long history that dates back to the 14th century at least. Although other beverages such as beer, whiskey and wine have gained in popularity in recent years, Soju remains a favourite due to its wide availability and low price compared to other alcoholic drinks.
Soju is sometimes mistakenly called rice wine, although this term is officially used for ‘Cheongju’, the Korean equivalent of Japanese Sake. The main difference between these two lies in the production process. While Sake or Cheongju are brewed, Soju is distilled. The rice brandy is almost always made in combination with other ingredients such as potatoes, wheat or barley, however, modern producers sometimes completely replace the rice with other starch-containing ingredients. Although Soju is traditionally produced by distillation, today, a large part of low-priced Soju is produced by mixing pure ethanol with water and flavorings. This technique arose in 1965 when the production of distilled soju was banned temporarily in order to mitigate a rice shortage.
Apart from the mass-produced brands such as Jinro and Chum-Churum which are widely available in South Korea, there are several regions that are known for the traditional production of Soju. Of the different variations, the one from Andong is the most famous.