See this, I still have got one on you.
The best selling spirit in the world is not rum, brandy, whisky, gin or vodka. It is a soju, a clear spirit flowing all the way from an Asian country. Sounds like the pet name of some cute boy, doesn’t it?
So where are we heading to, this week?
“Tsamina mina zangalewa
This time for South Korea…”
We are walking through a street in South Korea. Pink slabs of meat welcome us from the roadside stalls, the aroma wafting from them as they crackle over hot stoves pull us from all directions. Hmm… now add to the ambience the pitter patter of a rain. Look around. Cute and lovely girls straight from colleges, the stodgy youth eyeing them, businessmen tired after a long day; they all ease under the pitched roofs set up by restaurants, sipping calmly from bright coloured ceramic bottles as their faces turn degree by degree into some beet-red.
No point in resisting dear. Time to soak ourselves in the genius loci of Korea, Jinro soju, the largest selling spirit in the world.
Soju? What the hell is that, buddy?
Tell you. Soju is a distilled beverage popular in Korea. Clear and colourless, it tastes almost like vodka on your palate but definitely holds more sweetness than the Polish drink due to the sugars that do it. Rice and other starches are the traditional ingredients, but when the government banned them as part of the drink sometime ago, people switched over to potatoes, sweet and bitter, tapioca, wheat, and barley for the purpose.
Shirking away the old traditional methods of home production people took themselves to sophisticated distilleries to meet their destiny - to make their spirit, the most coveted one in the world.
Of all the sojus produced in the world, Jinro Soju is the Dalapathy, the leader of the pack. Just picture this: Koreans alone consume one million bottles of Jinro every year to keep the brand firmly at the top. Japan also lends a helping hand; soju outsells almost 90 competitors in the country for the last 10 years.
With all that hectic guzzling down in Korea and 60 other countries, Jinro doesn’t brook any competition in the world arena as well. It holds the heavyweight title leaving great brands like Bacardi, Smirnoff and Johnny Walker far behind for more than half-a-dozen years.
It was in 1924 that Jinro hit the market, bringing major tectonic shifts in the drinking habits of Asia. It never had to look back since then.
Choice spirits and spring water form the recipe behind the magic, Koreans say with humility. But we must get a bit closer to the distillery to watch the process:
“Jinro is a natural bamboo charcoal Alkali Soju that is made from 3 year old bamboo of Mt. Jiri and Southern Coast of Korea. This bamboo is made into charcoal by continuous roasting at 1000C for 12 hours and natural cooling for another 12 hours. This charcoal is used to purify both alcohol and water which are the fundamental element of Soju. The alcohol and water is purified through the bamboo charcoal 4 times eliminating all the harmful element of alcohol and impurities while adding the rich essential mineral components such as Kalium.”
So if somebody comes from abroad, tell him that you would be at the airport only if he brings a bottle of Jinro. Receive it with gratitude.
It’s time for the rituals.
The smooth crystal-clear liquid which comes in attractive bottles will not tolerate soda or water. No juices too. Drink it neat. The 20% spirit is not famous for burning your entrails. So chill out, sip it and brag after in your social media that you have just drunk the most popular spirit of the world.
Gun Bae! (Cheers in Korean)
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog — A Cup of Kavitha — introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)