August 24, 2014
Soju like to drink?
By Aisha Bhattacharya
When people talk about alcohol it’s usually the regulars that get discussed like Vodka, Whisky, Rum, and Beer. I recently had the opportunity to go for a Soju tasting. Now, the invite said it was Jinro Soju – Jinro is the world’s leading producer of Soju and is a South-Korean brand. A little like Sake but not quite. While Sake is like warm beer (being a fermented drink) Soju is distilled and closer to vodka in terms of the manufacturing process.
Surprisingly Soju is the most widely consumed drink in the world and sold nearly 65 million cases worldwide which is 2.5 times more than the next best selling spirit in the world. And we hear about it now! As of 2014, only Jinro Soju is available in India. Jinro 24 Soju is bulk imported and bottled in Goa for further distribution in the cities of Delhi/NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Before the tasting I decided to ask a few friends about it. The friends I chose had varying things to say:
Friend 1 is an American citizen of Chinese origin, an aspiring actress based in L.A. Here is what she said via a messaging application, ‘It’s not so different from Sake to me. Not for everyone, lol. Not really my thing, I prefer cocktails or wine. But, some people probably love it!’ This left me wondering, it didn’t give me a clear picture of what to expect. So I asked the next person who I thought would know what Soju is like.
Friend 2 is an Anglo-Indian based in Gurgaon; he has been in the hospitality industry for over 10 years now and deals in the luxury segment. I thought he’d be the perfect person to ask. Here is what he said, “Not my thing. You need to develop a taste for it and it usually goes well with Japanese food. It’s had neat and tastes like cheap vodka, like the one that was an outcome of a science project. If you like vodka maybe you’d like it. Drink it as chilled as possible and keep something you like eating in your mouth.” Now this was definitely making things clearer for me. I’m not really a fan of Vodka but by now my curiosity had got the better of me. I do enjoy Japanese food and luckily the venue for this tasting was Shiro at the Samrat Hotel in Chanakyapuri. But, I still wanted to ask one more person but I had no idea who else would know.
Friend 3 : My desire was fulfilled when I received a phone call from a very dear friend based in New York, he is a Punjabi-Bengali NRI and is very Wall Street (anyone who does anything with finance in New York is Wall Street enough for me). So, I asked him his opinion on Soju and his take was rather refreshing! He said, “I love it! It is my favourite first date drink.” When I asked him why, he said that the high creeps up on you very slowly and before you know it you’re drunk. So if any woman could handle him like that there lies the possibility of a future. I asked him if the deception was like Feni and he said yes!
Armed with all this invaluable knowledge I arrived at Shiro for the tasting and I have to admit I am a fan. The Soju was served chilled and neat as expected. The General Manager – Mr. Diljeet Singh Bindra came and spoke to us about the Soju and later even sent us a plate of Fire Cracker prawn that was absolutely delicious and went down well with it. We were served in the traditional ceramic cups and the Soju was poured into ceramic pots which lay nestled in a bowl of ice ensuring it remained chilled.
It is a clear, colourless and versatile liquid that is rather smooth and tastes pretty good. Unlike Vodka it doesn’t send a burning sensation down your throat and can be sipped at ease through the meal. We had the Teppanyaki Experience and the Soju went very well with all the food on offer. We sipped it chilled and managed to go through 2 bottles of 375ml each. As the name suggests this particular Soju had an ABV of 24% making it a little over half the strength of Vodka and none of the burning sharpness that accompanies vodka or even white rum for that matter.
I didn’t feel dizzy or anything but I did get very sleepy by the time I got home and woke up with a mild headache that went away after 2 glasses of water. Other than that no hangover!
- Serve absolutely chilled
- Drink it neat
- Pair it with Sushi or Sashimi if you like that. Or as my friend said with anything you like to eat but definitely go Asian with the flavours.
- Soju can also be used as a base for cocktails or a shot dropped into a pint of beer to make a ‘Soju-Bomb’. You could also mix 30% Soju and 70% Beer to make a ‘Somaek’.
- Watch how much you drink because of the high alcohol content
- It hits you much after you drink it so make sure you have a ride back home and are not driving
- Soju is traditionally made from rice, wheat or barley but modern producers use supplements or even replace rice with other starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes or tapioca.
- It has a high alcohol content ranging from 16.7% to 45% alcohol by volume (ABV) for traditional Andong soju with 20% ABV being most common.
- When receiving a glass from an elder, one must hold the glass with two hands (left palm on the bottom and hold the glass with the right hand) and bow the head slightly.
- When it is your turn to drink, turn away from the elder and cover your mouth and glass with your hands. This is a useful tip in case you aren’t used to drinking neat alcohol.
- While pouring a glass for others hold the bottle with your right hand and support your right arm with your left hand by touching the elbow. Anyone who has ever done puja or aarti at a temple will manage the supporting part with ease.
- Most importantly: Never pour your own and don’t refill until the glass is empty.
Here comes the awesome part: You can visit jinro and login to their page via facebook to nominate a friend for a Soju Party on their birthday! I’ve already asked a couple of friends to nominate me and why not? I really enjoyed the drink! Drink it with an open mind and a not too empty stomach and you’ll actually enjoy the experience. Also please see the Jinro Locator provided by Jinro India for Delhi.
Anubhav Sapra is an avid foodie! He is a Founder but proudly calls himself a Foodie-in-chief at Delhi Food Walks. He is also a street-food and Indian regional cuisine connoisseur and loves to write about street-food.