Soju and Vodka are two distilled beverages of different origins. Soju came from Korea, while Vodka came from Poland or Russia. Some interesting facts are that they can be made from similar ingredients, and that they both have a clear, transparent color. So, how do they compare against each other? Continue reading below for the comparison between Soju vs Vodka!
What we will discuss below about these two drinks include:
• The origin and history of each drink
• The ingredients for making soju and vodka
• The comparison of their flavors
• The alcohol content of soju vs vodka
• The ideal way for drinking each beverage
• Some examples of popular and recommended sojus and vodkas
• Whether soju or vodka is better
Let’s start from the origins of these drinks. Most of us know that soju came from Korea. The origin of vodka is debatable due to the lack of sufficient historical proof, but it is believed to be Poland or Russia. But how were they invented? See also: Daiquiri vs Margarita.
The word “soju” literally means “burned liquor”. The first letter, so, means burn, referring to the distillation process. The second letter, ju, roughly means alcoholic drink. It is sometimes called noju because of the droplets of alcohol in the distilling process.
According to Wikipedia, Soju was first invented in the 13th century Goryeo during the invasions of the Mongol Empire to Korea. The Yuan Mongols had acquired the Levantine distilling technique for making arak from the Persians and brought it along to Korea. The Yuan Mongols’s logistics base was located in the city of Andong. This is where Andong soju, which is the direct root of modern soju varieties, was made as home-brewed liquor.
Vodka is a diminutive form of “voda”, a Slavic word which roughly means “little water”. People in the area of vodka’s probable origin have their own names for vodka, such as the Polish gorzala, the Ukrainian horilka, the Belarusian harelka, and the Russian goryashchee vino, among others. All of these names have roots meaning to burn.
The precise origin of Vodka is debatable because not much historical material is available. The beverages which were probable to be the root of modern vodka actually had very different flavors, colors, and smells, and mostly were used for medicinal purposes. Nevertheless, vodka is believed to originate from Poland or Russia.
The first written mention of wodka (vodka) was in Poland in 1405. However, it referred to chemical compounds used as cosmetics cleansers and medicines. The popular beverage that is now known as vodka was called gorzalkaat the time. Meanwhile, a distilled liquor designated by the Russian word vodka came up in Russia in the 14th century. Legend says that in 1430, a monk from Chudov Monastery in Moscow Kremlin named Isidore created the first Russian vodka.
Traditionally, soju is made from rice, although sometimes barley or wheat is used instead. First, the grains are fermented for about 15 days. Then, the mature rice wine goes through the distillation process. It is filtered and boiled in a cauldron called sot, which is topped with a two-storied distilling tool called sojugori.
In 1965 – 1999, the South Korean government prohibited the use of rice for making soju because of rice shortages. As the effect, soju was created by using highly distilled ethanol acquired from tapioca or sweet potatoes, water, sweeteners, and flavorings. Nowadays, some cheap soju products are still made this way, but other producers have resumed making soju from grains.
Fruit soju was introduced to the market in 2015. Fruit soju was popular among young people because of the lower alcohol content and the fruit flavors. However, after the initial hype, the popularity of fruit soju has declined. Now, it is not widely available.
Vodka can be distilled from any plant that is starch-rich or sugar-rich. Most vodka products nowadays are made from grains, such as wheat, rye, sorghum, and corn. Among these grain vodkas, wheat and rye vodkas are usually considered superior. However, some other vodkas are made from rice, potatoes, grapes, soybeans, sugar beets, molasses, and even byproducts of wood pulp processing or oil refining.
Several Central European countries make vodka by simply fermenting crystal sugar and yeast. The Vodka Belt countries insist that only spirits made from grains, potato, or sugar beet molasses may be called vodkas. In the USA, many vodka products are actually made from 95% pure grain alcohol which is filtered and diluted, yet these products are sold under different brands.
Soju is generally sweet and stimulating. The taste is like weaker and sweeter vodka. And it really stimulates your appetite, so it is really great for accompanying some meals, especially salty or spicy meals. Even so, the taste may vary considerably from product to product.
Low-end soju tastes rough with little to no depth. Cheap soju is only for making you drunk as quickly as possible; it only has enough sweetness to make the ethanol drinkable. Mid-range soju has a mild and clean taste that is rounded with sweeteners or flavorings, but is without complexity. Mid-range soju is designed to be compatible with various meals and palatable for most people.
Premium soju is made through traditional methods. Premium soju usually has much higher alcohol content than low-end and mid-range products. However, the flavor is considerably smoother and more complex. Different brands have distinctive fragrances and tastes, ranging from fruity to floral. Andong soju is still known for its complex flavor and quality, but it is sometimes considered old-fashioned.
Vodka does not have a distinct taste. Stylistic differences in brands are often about the texture, which is often called the liquor’s mouth feel, and the heat. Vodka’s flavor is subtle like a clear grain, but it is not precisely tasteless and odorless. After tasting different varieties of vodka, you will start to notice the subtle differences.
Two prominent styles of vodka can be represented by two brands, Absolut and Stolichnaya. These two brands of vodka are very different. Absolut has an oily and silky sweet texture. Stolichnaya has a clean watery texture and a somewhat medicinal finish. However, the vodka market nowadays has gone beyond these typical features, so it is hard to categorize the different products into just two simple categories.
So, what is the heat of a vodka? Heat refers to the burn that happens on the tongue or on the back of the throat when you drink the vodka straight. It often can help you deduce how smooth or clean the vodka. Less expensive vodkas tend to give high heat, whereas premium brands are usually smoother and subtler.
There are also flavored vodkas. These vodkas come with flavorings, such as citrus, berry, pomegranate, and chocolate. There are desserts and candies flavors, too. Even obscure flavors like bacon, salmon, hemp, and tobacco are available if you search long enough. Some of these products use the traditional infusion method by steeping the ingredients in the finished vodka. But most products simply add natural or artificial flavor extracts into the vodka.
The alcohol content of soju varies between 16.8% and up to 53% alcohol by volume (ABV). Of course, most sojus have higher alcohol than beer and wine, but they are not as high as hard liquor. Also, most sojus are weaker than vodkas in terms of alcohol content. However, premium sojus may actually contain higher alcohol levels than vodkas.
Meanwhile, since the 1890s, most vodkas have been standardized to have about 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). The European Union actually has established a minimum standard of 37.5% ABV for a product to be called vodka. However, most vodkas stick with 40% ABV. There are just few products that contain lower or higher alcohol levels.
So, when choosing between soju vs vodka, you should consider their alcohol levels. While occasional alcohol consumption is generally safe, excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with various health problems. To begin with, beverages with high alcohol levels will cause more severe hangover symptoms, which are not only annoying but also possibly dangerous. Excessive alcohol consumption may lead to anemia, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, suppressed immunity, gout, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, dementia, depression, nerve damage, and some types of cancer.
With that in mind, we can say that soju is generally safer than vodka because most soju products have lower alcohol levels. Premium soju products, which often have even higher alcohol than vodka, should not be consumed frequently.
How to Consume
Soju is traditionally consumed with food. As mentioned above, soju tends to stimulate the appetite, so serving it with food is definitely an ideal way to make use of the effect. In fact, there are some foods that are made specifically to be accompanied with soju or alcohol. Such foods are called anju.
One important note. Soju is traditionally a communal drink. In the tradition, you should never pour your own soju. At first, the oldest member of the group will pour some of the liquid into a shot glass and then hand it over to you. This is something to keep in mind when drinking soju with Korean people.
When receiving the shot glass, you should use two hands while turning your face to the side so that you won’t make an eye contact with the person. Then, shoot it. You may sip it if you prefer to, but shooting is more common. Afterwards, glasses are filled whenever they are empty.
Vodka is also traditionally meant to be served with food, even though some people nowadays drink vodka alone without food. Vodka must always be chilled. Sometimes, when necessary, a bottle of vodka is placed in the snow in order to chill it. The recommendation is to drink vodka in small doses, from either short glasses or shot glasses, and to have a snack every after a glass. Sip it; don’t shoot it.
There are a variety of meals and snacks that are made to go with vodka in the Russian culture. Most appetizers go well with vodka. Some other popular examples are preserved vegetables (soured, salted, or steeped), mushrooms, caviar, herring, meat jelly, lard or ham, dumplings, Russian pancakes, meat, and Russian cabbage soup or borscht.
There are several recommended brands of soju. If you are wondering about which brand to choose for your first experience with soju, these are some great options.
• Andong. One of the favorites among foreigners and Koreans. It is an upscale brand with superior taste and smoothness. However, the alcohol level is actually quite high, which is about 40%.
• Jinro. This is the bestselling brand in Korea and it has been shipped to many other countries. However, it is quite harsh, so it is not recommended for people who don’t like strong alcohol.
• Chum Churum. This brand is generally smoother with an alcohol level between 19% and 25%.
• Tokki. It is made in Brooklyn and is considered one of the premium brands. It is made from rice with the traditional method. The alcohol content is about 23%.
• Yobo. It is made in New York, is grape-based with 23% alcohol.
• HwaYo. It is also considered a premium brand. There are HwaYo 23 (contains 23% alcohol) and HwaYo 41 (contains 41% alcohol).
Vodka is available in many brands. Here are some of the recommended options for someone who has never tasted vodka before.
• KU:L Vodka. It is an inexpensive brand with a smooth taste. It is great for a chilled cocktail, but you may drink it straight too.
• Jean-Marc XO. It costs a bit more than common vodkas, but it is worth the money for someone who really enjoys vodka. It is made through nine times of distillation process and is filtered through charcoal.
• 1.0.1Iced Vodka. It delivers a smooth and warm taste. It is neither too strong nor too light.
• Chopin Vodka. It is named after the famous Polish composer. It is smooth and a bit oily. The taste is sweet with slight lemony flavor.
• Absolute Vodka. A quality drink with an oily and silky sweet texture and a clean taste. Available in various of flavors.
• Stolichnaya. A well-known Soviet brand. It is made through three times of distillation process and is filtered by a unique freeze filtration system. It has a clean watery texture and a somewhat medicinal finish.
Soju vs Vodka
|- Originated in Korea||- Originated in Poland or Russia|
|- Traditionally made from rice, barley, or wheat||- Traditionally made from grains, potato, or sugar beet molasses|
|- Weaker and sweeter, can have a complex flavor||- No strong distinct taste; variations in texture and heat|
|- Between 16.8% and 53% alcohol by volume (ABV)||- Usually 40% alcohol by volume (ABV)|
|- You may sip it although shooting is more common||- You should sip it instead of shooting it|
Soju is generally more recommended because it usually has lower alcohol levels. Still, you need to double check, as some sojus actually have even higher alcohol. Premium sojus can have complex flavors. Soju is commonly shot although you may sip it. Vodka generally has higher alcohol, with subtle differences in the character. Vodka should be sipped, not shot.