Korean Alcohol...A Primer (!)
Hi, my name is Michael and I'm an...oops! Wrong group. A Mr. Steve Stern asked a couple of months ago about various types of Korean liquor. Having lived here in Korea for the last two years, and having sampled a fair share of the variety here (*hic*), here is my testimony.
Bordeaux is to the French as Soju is to the Koreans. Soju is the premier drink here, Western imports notwithstanding. If you divide up the world liquor market by volume (rather than dollar value), Koreans make up some huge portion of the world market... In any case, economic nationalism aside, until a few years ago, soju was soju. Then Jinro and others started making some sort of specialty soju... Soju distilled sweetly (Misoju), soju with higher purity (green soju, and "Chamisool" soju). Nowadays, the basic Jinro soju (light blue bottle with a red and gold label) is considered rather cheap and most people drink the green bottles. The novice will probably not taste the difference. All soju reminds all uniformly of nail polish remover. But actually the more expensive brands (in the green bottles) do make a difference in the morning. You will have a hangover, but not as debilitating and decapitating as the cheap variety. Most Korean restaurants will have the Jinro chamisool soju. Ask for that one as sort of a benchmark.
Purists will poo poo it, but wonki mentioned sojus mixed with fruits. There are endless varieties grape (soju mixed with Welch's soda), strawberry (ditto), lemon (powder lemonade mix?) and even cucumber (search me), and even yogurt (not the thick variety, but with the Japanese thin yogurt). Given that social thinking in Korea can be seen as backwards, it is not surprising then that these fruit sojus are strictly for younger people or for women. Men are not supposed to go near the stuff.
Now, everyone agrees that soju is so nasty that there is no other way to consume this than by shooting it and then taking some anju and a dreg of coca cola. Actually, after a while, you do get to the taste and you will find that really greasy foods (samgyupsal) is an amazingly apt partner with soju.
All in all, its an effort to get used to soju. It takes a while and really its not for everyone. Imagine trying to get used to a routine of shooting vodka throughout a meal. That's what soju is. Just remember to eat a lot.
More on other alcohol later.