Today readers, we’ll be examining a type of spirit that is an absolute must in South Korea, but also has a very popular cousin in Japan. This spirit is referred to as soju. Its famed Japanese cousin is actually referred to as shochu. Orginally this was a spirit distilled from rice in South Korea. However, due to a rice shortage in that country around the mid 1900s, the Korean government advocated the use of other ingredients including barley, tapioca, sweet potatoes, and even wheat. Because it is distilled, it is more akin to a vodka than the brewed beverage that it is typically most confused with, sake. Like many different spirits around the world, the word that soju and shochu derives from translates roughly to “burned liquor.” This is akin to the phrase “burned wine” which we now refer to in the world of spirts as brandy.
Soju enjoys a classification in California and New York that keeps it out of the same regulations as other spirits and thusly places it in the same licensing category as beer and wine. Because of this, many restaurants and bars without proper state issued liquor licenses sell cocktails using it in the place of vodka and similar neutral spirits. As Ty Ku is produced in Japan, this particular soju can also be classified as shochu, as per their own site. It is marketed as a low calorie alternative to other spirits that are used in many popular cocktails. I have had some difficulties finding a Korean brand such as Jinro thus far, but will also review it once a bottle has been located and procured from a local spirits emporium.
The nose on the Ty Ku is difficult to really explain. It is mild but complex. You get some hints that are reminicent of a white grain whisky, but there are also faint notes of citrus and an essence resembling oatmeal. The flavor is probably the most mild that this examiner has ever encountered from any distilled spirit that has been reviewed or tested in the past. This can most likely be attributed to the lower alcohol content of Ty Ku soju. It is just a hair over 40 proof putting it closer to a liqueur than a liquor. However, this is definitely not a sweetened headache inducing liqueur one might associate with this proofage. It is much more akin to a grain whisky cut with more water than most other whisky brands. The most prominent note inherent in the sip was the barley.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable spirit by all accounts. As a matter of a fact, being that soju/shochu are the world’s number one distilled spirits according to the Ty Ku website, I’m sure there’s a large sum of people all over the world willing to agree with me. Please feel free to pick up a 750 ML bottle of this beverage at your local Spec’s Liquor for $19.88. As always, please call ahead for availability.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Suggested Tasting Method: Do as the Koreans traditionally have done and enjoy it neat.
Editor’s Note: If there is anyone reading this article that would like to try a cocktail using Ty Ku, you may visit the Ty Ku Soju page for a few recipes.