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Drinking Culture Changes In South Korea As Soju Becomes More Versatile

by Ji Hyun Joo / Sep 11, 2015 03:37 PM EDT

Soju, a grain-based liquor, is very popular in South Korea, even making its way to the States as of late.

However, for professional women in South Korea drinking with their male co-workers, it’s not the easiest alcoholic beverage to drink to wind down after a long day of work, which explains why the new fruit-flavored lower-alcohol soju has become so popular.

In the midst of this shift in variety of alcohol, a healthier drinking culture has come about as well.

“Company drinking culture has changed. It's not like what we see on TV dramas anymore. Nobody forces anybody to drink. People make their own decisions on whether to drink more," stated 25-year-old Jeon Seo-jin.

Many professional women in South Korea are calling for more beverages with a lower alcohol content.

Beverage companies in South Korea are now importing more sparkling wine while Lotte Chilsung Beverages recently launched a citron-flavored soju called Soonahri with 14 percent alcohol, lower than the the usual 21 percent, according to Reuters.

“It gives you time to enjoy the taste and talk with friends - unlike regular soju, which is too strong, said Jeon.

The debut of this lower-alcohol soju was long overdue.

"There was pent-up demand for change in flavor and alcohol content among South Korean drinkers, especially among females as more and more of them join the workforce," said Lee Kyung-ju, an analyst at Korea Investment and Securities.

Although soju made its way to consumers outside of Korea recently, the beverage is still enjoyed mostly by those in North and South Korea, according to The Wall Street Journal. Soju is the world’s best selling spirit, which is an indication of how much Koreans drink the beverage.

The “soju-only” culture has also changed within South Korea as many craft beer bars have reportedly opened up recently, thanks to the female demand for diversity. Wine bars, cocktail and whiskey bars have also reportedly opened shop within Seoul.

“Women are more interested in wines, champagnes, craft beers and cocktails, and they’re willing to pay a premium,” explained Joshua Hall, a Seoul-based food and drinks consultant.

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