If you like sake or vodka, I have a beverage for you to try: soju. Never heard of it? I think you will soon start seeing it on Asian restaurant menus around town. According to a friend of mine, it is all the rage in L.A. So you know we won’t want to be too far behind the coast.
Soju is to Korea as sake is to Japan. The average Korean tips back two bottles a day of the tasty liquor, translating to around three billion bottles a year—so it can’t be bad. Mixing the distilled alcohols of grain, sweet potatoes, and tapioca with the distilled spirits of rice and barley goes into the making of soju. The flavor is much like sake with a drier finish and slightly fewer floral notes, but the alcohol content is much higher. To put a finer point on it: It tastes like a blend of sake and vodka. At 20 percent alcohol, it can sneak up on you; suddenly you’re wearing a lampshade and dancing on the table!
I find it to be a great complement to Asian cuisines, especially sushi and Korean food. It also lends itself perfectly to the restaurant mixology department; add a little slice of ginger and cucumber for a great cocktail, or replace the vodka in your next Cosmo with soju. I think it would add a great flavor to poached fish or shellfish—my next experiment. The only brand I have found locally is Jinro; you can find it at a few local restaurants, including Sushi Tango in Uptown, King’s Fine Korean in Fridley, and Kum Gang San in St. Paul (where Shilla used to be). As for retail locations, MGM is the your best bet. MGM Oakdale, Hilltop, and Burnsville are all stocked, along with Cashwise in St. Michael.
KONBE! (Cheers! in Korean.)