Koreans looking for weaker soju

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Koreans looking for weaker soju


New Chamisul

Korean soju, the world’s top-selling spirit made from rice, is gradually embracing a lower alcohol content to keep up with the evolving drinking culture and the refined tastes of booze enthusiasts.

The move is in response to the increasing number of Koreans who are choosing not to guzzle shots of strong liquor that goes straight to their head. Instead, many are looking for softer drinks that keep the conversation going and create a less intense drinking atmosphere.

Hite-Jinro, the distiller behind Chamisul soju, which is No. 1 by sales, said this week that on Nov. 25 it will reduce the amount of alcohol in its Original flavored Chamisul to 17.8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) from the current 18.5 percent.

“Different aspects factored in to the decision,” said a Hite-Jinro spokesman. “But the major reason is that more and more women started drinking, and we found that they tend to prefer low-alcohol soju.”

The majority of soju products contained more than 20 percent ABV in the 1990s, down from 35 percent in the 1920s as manufacturers have gradually lowered the proportion.

The move follows Lotte Liquor’s decision in February to lower the alcohol content of its flagship Chum-Churum soju from 19 to 18 percent.

After the change, Chum-Churum’s market share went up by 3 percentage points.

Launched in 2006, Lotte’s soju was the first to drop below the 20 percent mark, reducing its alcohol content to 19.5 percent in July 2007.

The company now has a low-alcohol soju with 16.8 percent ABV called Chum-Churum Cool.

The second-largest soju maker is preparing to release a new version of the liquor with a strength of 17 percent, for which it has already filed an application with the Liquor License Aid Center at the National Tax Service. A distiller must submit an application for each new recipe.

The trend of lighter drinks also applies to the whiskey market. Lotte Liquor released a low-alcohol content whiskey called Jupiter Mild Blue in June with an ABV of 35 percent, lower than the typical 40 percent.

But the beer market has been heading in the opposite direction. Lotte Liquor’s recently-released Kloud contains 5 percent, higher than similar beers from its competitors.

Oriental Brewery followed up with its The Premier OB, released last week, to confront Kloud’s rise. The new OB beverage has 5.2 percent ABV.

Sources in the beverage market said that it is important to move nimbly to suit the changing tastes of consumers.

“Now, a one-size-fits all approach would not work here,” said a representative of Lotte Liquor. “When it comes to beer, people want it to be stronger and dense. This is because of the perception that existing beers are rather watery compared to overseas beers.

“Consumers will look for light soju and softer tastes in it. It is also important how well it goes with other beer products when they mix beer and soju to make poktanju.”

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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