[FOUNTAIN]Kiss the toad goodbye“Let’s have a shot of soju, O.K.?”
Korean alcohol lovers have always been enchanted by this phrase.
Dukkeobi soju ― the word means “toad” in English ― was once Korea’s favorite brand of soju, a well-established liquor here. Dukkeobi was first manufactured in 1954 and became the symbol of the distiller, Jinro Co. Because of the popularity of the brand, small local soju distillers sought and received market protection that lasted until 1991.
Soju is said to have been first developed in the Won Dynasty (1271-1368) of China. It was probably introduced to Korea in about 1300. The history of fermented alcoholic drinks like beer and rice wine date back to the era of mythology, but distilled liquors like soju, vodka and whiskey have shorter history.
The word “soju” means a triple-distilled liquor. It is called shochu in Japan. Near the end of the Joseon Dynasty, in the 19th century, Koreans began drinking soju in earnest. Before that soju was expensive and was used only as a medicine.
Soju has 20 to 30 percent of alcohol by volume, and is made by diluting 96-percent grain alcohol with water. That method of making soju caused the misunderstanding that Koreans are world-class alcohol lovers. A report published by the World Health Organization in 1999 said annual alcohol consumption of Koreans 15 years of age or older was 14.4 liters per person. According to the report, Korea ranked in second place after Slovenia (15.15 liter per person) in alcohol consumption.
But the WHO report was wrong because of a translation mistake. In the report, the grain alcohol was confused with the final liquor itself. Per capita consumption was actually 7.6 liters per year, and Korea’s rank dropped to 40th.
The Seoul District Court last Wednesday announced it had granted an application by Goldman Sachs to put Jinro into court receivership. The subsidiary of the U.S. investment bank owns 5 percent of the foundering distiller’s outstanding debts. The court also appointed a new manager of Jinro. Protesting the measure, Jinro stopped production of soju. But the basic reason that Jinro fell into receivership was because it tried to diversify into businesses other than distilleries and incurred huge debts in doing so. Was the alcohol lovers’ affection for Dukkeobi not enough to keep the company prosperous?
by Lee Se-jeong
The writer is a deputy economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.