Non-Koreans, don't be fooled by your Korean pal who delights in being your personal culinary ambassador to The Motherland. They've done you right with the restaurant and food recommendations, but pass on the soju.
Soju tastes like rubbing alcohol, and is good for 3 things only:
1) getting blitzed as cheaply and as quickly as possible
2) allowing Korean Americans to wax nostalgic about the Yonsei summer program
3) allowing Korean Americans to give cute pouring lessons to non-Koreans (ie, 2 hands, oppa, hyung, etc)
The thing is, a bottle of soju costs $2 *max* in Seoul, but at least 5 times as much anywhere else (shipping + import taxes). Soju *used* to be made from fermented rice or sweet potatoes. NO MAS, just chemical nastiness these days.
Here's the thing: most cultures around the world enjoy their booze. But nowhere on earth is binge drinking and late-night street vomit as mainstream as in Korea. Extreme drunkenness is the de facto crucible in which friendships (and 1nightstands) are forged and solidified. The average 20something FEMALE Seoulite knows at least 2 dozen drinking games. The fuel for this fire? Unless it's an overpriced nightclub where the cheapest booze is a $100 bottle of Jack, it's soju. In Korea, 99 times out of 100, it's about about the drunkenness, not the drink itself.
I'm not hating on Korea. I love the drinking culture, the games, the getting plastered, all of it. Some of the most fun nights I've had were spent in a drunken haze in Apkujeong, Hongdae, Kangnam yeok, etc. But Koreans let's be honest here: recommending soju in America is like recommending Colt 45 in France. Without cultural context, it's utterly pointless.
If you're a non-Korean interested in Korean booze, skip the soju. Go for a couple of tasty Korean liquors.
One is pronounced BEK SAY JOO (image http://www.ksdb.co.kr/eng/product/bek... ). Taste-wise, it's sort of an Asian white wine, sipped and not shot. Content-wise, it's an Asian gin: a ton of different herbs and ingredients (lycii folium. MMMmmmmm, lycii folium http://www.ksdb.co.kr/eng/product/her... ). People mix BSJ with soju to make OH SHIP JOO a play on the fact that the BEK in BEK SAY JOO means 100 and OH SHIP means 50. Fun stuff but IMO adding soju to anything is a great way to make it taste worse.
For me, SAHN SA CHOON (image http://soolsool.koreasme.com/img/1999... ) is the best. A wine made with rose hips. This best taste of any Korean booze you'll likely find outside Korea.
FWIW the best Korean liquor is DOOL JJEUK JOO. You won't find it in the US. It's made in North Korea from I believe a "cousin" of the blueberry. A handful of places in Seoul get it on the gray market and sell it when it's available.
As far as Korean beers go, any place in LA will have all or part of the O.B., Cass, or Hite triforce of mediocrity. Think Coors/PBR/Bud but imported 1/2way across the globe. I prefer Cass.
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