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You think you know soju?

I thought I knew soju. It’s cheap enough in Korea to become easily acquaintable. I can only drink it when I’m in the mood for it. I recently did some more research on soju for an article I wrote for SEOUL Magazine, and I became simultaneously repulsed and intrigued.

What repulsed me was that most cheap commercial soju — the stuff people usually drink — is not distilled. It’s pure grain alcohol mixed with flavorings and watered down. That explains the hangover factor.

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Yet the real distilled stuff is more expensive and not as widely available. Most of it comes from the little city of Andong.

I perused the liquor section at my local E-Mart, and I saw this bottle of Ilpoom brand Andong soju for around 7,000 won ($7), compared to a bottle of regular soju, which runs for 1,000 won ($1). Also, the Andong soju is 45% alcohol whereas regular soju is around 20-35% alcohol.

I heard that Andong soju has a kick. As a result, it sat in the refrigerator for a while, waiting for that special occasion when I would have the inkling for a stiff drink.

That inkling occurred last weekend. I opened it and poured it into a traditional soju glass (not a shot glass). The aroma was flowery and clean.

I took a sip.

My goodness. It’s not that bad.

The taste was clean and complex. It was a little sweet — not sugary sweet — like a mild fruit with a buttery finish. It had more similarities to sake than it did to green bottle soju. It was a lot stronger than sake, and I think it would also be useful in cooking.

Now that I’m learning to like the real stuff, I’m gonna have to take a trip to Andong to try it straight from the source.

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