When I received orders for South Korea back in the day, all the crusty old Sergeants at Fort Lewis warned me of the dangers of Sojo – the sneaky devil drink of choice for Koreans (and subsequently all American GIs stationed there).
Pretty much any bar, restaurant or convenient store in Korea sells Soju by the bottle. Back then it was about 1,200 ₩ (which was about $0.85 USD – but now it’s about 1 to 1 – $1 = 1,000 ₩). Straight Soju tastes like sweet vodka and goes down much smoother, which is dangerous in itself. But, the real danger is when you mix it.
Like vodka (but better), Soju mixes with just about anything you throw at it. I think I’ve even tried milk once. After I finished playing Army, my buddy and I went back to Korea with one-way tickets and no certainty to find jobs teaching English. There, he and I, along with our crazy friends would raid the local convenient stores and buy all their Soju along with whatever we could mix with it (I prefered blue Powerade). We drank till our livers pickled for around $5. The back porch of my buddy’s apartment looked like a recycling facility. At any given time, there were 5-10 empty cases of Soju from the previous weekend. It got a little ridiculous in Korea.
My First Soju Experience
The first weekend in Korea, I go out with some of the main alcoholics on base to give our livers a culture shock. They are old hands at the evil drink and pace themselves accordingly as I talk shit and challenge their manhoods, taking down shot after shot. Then come the kettles. A kettle is a liter of generic soda (like the crap your aunt buys from Aldi’s). The top is cut off for some odd reason and it’s spiked like a punch bowl at a junior prom with (you guessed it) Soju. These are the must-have drinks at any Juicy Bar (or Drinky Bar – whatever you called them around your base). I call them whorehouses, because that’s what they were. Picture the dirtiest strip club you’ve ever been in. Now fill it with Filipina and Russian girls you couldn’t pay me to talk to, who only know about three words of English: “Buy me drinky.”
“Soju is the devil in a push-up bra.”
Anyways, I drink about two of these kettles, which taste like candy. I’m not drunk at all. In fact, I’m beginning to think I’m immune to this so-called bad ass of the Orient. As I proceed to call everyone at the bar a vagina, I stand up like a champ, take two steps to the bathroom and…
I wake up in a turtle ditch, completely covered in leaves, just passed the front gates of my base (don’t ask me how I got past the guards). My pants are ripped up the inseam and I have no shirt on. I have dried up ketchup (or blood) on my face and I reek of vomit, cherry soda and regret. Long story short; Soju is the devil in a push-up bra.
Experts estimate that Korean soju came to fruition around 1300 AD during the Mongul War. Leave it to the Mongoloids to bring the party. Soju is a clear, distilled alcoholic beverage that is generally made of rice, but can be made of barley, dangmil, potato, sweet potato or wheat.
As with most Asian liquors, one must follow certain etiquette while drinking it with traditional Koreans.
- Drink it by sipping or taking it as a shot.
- Hold the glass with both hands if a respected person is pouring the drink.
- Never pour your own glass.
- Refill a glass only when it’s completely empty.
- When pouring for others, hold the bottle with your right hand with your left hand touching your right elbow or forearm.
- When receiving a drink, place the glass in your left hand and hold it with your right while slightly bowing your head in gratitude.
- Sometimes younger adults at the table turn their heads away from the table while drinking in front of older, respected adults.