A patriot’s suicide and the odd origin of soju

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A patriot’s suicide and the odd origin of soju

Sept. 30, 1963
When Yi Jun, a Korean independence activist during the Japanese colonial period, was sent in secret to the Netherlands in 1907 as an envoy to promote Korea's independence during The Hague Peace Convention, he did not know how long it would be before he returned to his homeland.
He did eventually come back to Korea on this date, 56 years after a lonely death in the Netherlands. His body was reburied in Suyuri, northeastern Seoul.
Mr. Yi, then a 48-year-old prosecutor-turned-freedom fighter, died before he could accomplish his mission. He had been sent to The Hague by King Gojong to tell world leaders that the “Eulsa Colony Treaty,” a pact made by the Japanese and forced upon Korea in 1905, was created under unjustifiable circumstances and was therefore invalid.
But Japanese agents prevented Mr. Yi from entering the convention hall, and he never got a chance to speak to or hear from other foreign diplomats. Lamenting his situation, Mr. Yi committed suicide a month after having arrived at The Hague.
The Hague built the Yi Jun Peace Museum to pay tribute to his “patriotic death.” The city is also slated to complete a memorial church in 2007 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of his suicide.
Seoul recently showed its respect for the independence activist as well. The city announced that it would send a special national flag to the Yi Jun Peace Museum.
Seoul city officials said the flag will be numbered “One,” the first of the about 3,600 Korean flags, each with a serial number, that covered the Seoul city hall building as part of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day celebrations.

Oct. 1, 1995
Korea’s strongest spirit, soju, has not won many converts outside of the country. But some Koreans say that these days, soju tastes “strangely sweet.”
Anyone who makes such a comment will be assumed to be bragging about their drinking skills ― you might as well warn your drinking buddies that tonight will be especially brutal. But even a good drinker will sometimes scrunch up their face and shudder at the strong taste of soju.
The secret to making good soju is achieving the right percentage of glucose, citric acid and amino acid for the perfect taste and knock-out effect.
On this date in 1995, however, the revised Liquor Tax allowed soju-makers to put in another additive, caroligosaccharide, a type of carbohydrate.
Because soju is a diluted alcohol after distillation, such additives are needed to give the clear liquor a certain taste. This can make the drink taste sweet, but as the type of additives and quantity used varies from producer to producer, the tastes differ accordingly.
The Korea Alcohol & Liquor Industry Association says the average soju maker includes 0.05 percent to 0.15 percent of additives per volume. (This means that you could be drinking the same soju brand, but each bottle could taste slightly different, depending on which plant they were produced in.)
For reference, Korean soju used to be just a distilled liquor until the mid -1960s ― grains were first fermented and then distilled. But in 1965, the government prohibited the use of grains for making liquor as part of its new Cereal Law, which was aimed at securing food for the population. Soju-makers had to turn to another source to make the alcohol.
In 1991, however, the regulations were loosened, and some soju makers are now trying to make soju from the classic recipe once more.

by Lee Min-a
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