Can Korean Soju Replace Vodka As America’s Most Beloved Clear Spirit?

After all, soju is the top-selling spirit in the world.

Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

According to trade magazine Drinks International, soju (a clear spirit made from rice) is the top-selling spirit in the world. Yes sir, the brand more than doubles the sales of its closest competitor every year—and Smirnoff, Jack Daniel’s, and Bacardi don’t even come close, reports NPR.

Soju already dominates the market in South Korea, Japan, and China, but now top-selling soju brand Jinro soju wants to expand its American operation. Korean-Americans are already sold on Soju, but Jinro wants to get non-Koreans in the U.S. to jump on the soju bandwagon. How does the company plan to do this? For one, Jinro has partnered with the Los Angeles Dodgers and started selling soju at games. And soju is getting help from Korean pop star PSY, whose “Gangnam Style” music video is now closing in on 2 billion views—PSY told the Sunday Times that soju was his “best friend.” ”The Korean culture is now becoming the hip culture,” says Patty Kang, who runs advertising strategy for Jinro America.

Soju’s one advantage over vodka is it’s alcohol content. It’s around 20 percent, so restaurants in some states don’t need a full liquor license to sell soju, just a beer and wine license.

Kang hopes to get soju into every store, right next to gin, vodka, and whiskey. But Hamish Smith—deputy editor of Drinks International—says that goal might be unrealistic. But he adds that there is a precedent for a new spirit entering the American market: “In the 1950s, vodka was a foreign alcohol trying to make it big in the U.S. and now it’s the top-selling spirit here.”

Soju’s one advantage over vodka is it’s alcohol content. It’s around 20 percent, so restaurants in some states don’t need a full liquor license to sell soju, just a beer and wine license, which is easier and cheaper to get. And even though soju has less alcohol content, you can always just double the volume, Venice beach bartender Megan Cross tells NPR.

The main take away here just may be that soju doesn’t need the U.S. to love it for it to be the top-selling spirit in the world. Sorry, America.

Here are 3 bars in NYC that sell soju cocktails, so you can jump on the soju bandwagon:

  • Pocha 32 (Koreatown): The Watermelon Soju cocktail, which comes in a hollowed-out, halved watermelon, is enough to get you and five of your closest friends buzzed.
  • Sake Bar Decibel (East Village): New York’s original Japanese sake bar offers a variety of cocktails made with soju.
  • Bait & Hook (Gramercy): This seafood shack offers classic, mango, and pineapple soju mojitos to sip with your fish & chips.
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