American Hipsters Take Soju Upmarket

  • By Choi Bo-yun

    September 02, 2021 13:36

    Soju, long regarded as the common man's tipple, is gaining popularity among hipsters and celebrities both at home and abroad.

    Chic versions are being endorsed by celebrities like Eva Chow and hip hop star Park Jae-bum.

    KHEE soju, which varies from 22 percent to 38 percent proof and costs a steep W20,000 to W50,000 a bottle, is the brainchild of Chow, a Korean-American fashion designer, who makes it in America and then sells it back to her country of birth.

    Shinsegae chairman Chung Yong-jin and actress Ko So-young have both fanned its popularity by posting KHEE on Instagram, and one batch of 1,000 bottles sold out in just two days here.

    Chow developed KHEE over two years targeting the premium liquor market. "I created KHEE because I wanted to share the culture of Korea, where I was born and which I love, with the world."

    It is brewed with mineral water that is fermented in clay pots for 180 days. Described by the New York Times as the "culture queen" of Hollywood, Chow has become a celebrity since he was appointed director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2008. She is also well known for publicizing Korean stars around the world.

    Park Jae-bum even put out a song titled "Soju" in 2018. He set up a company called One Spirits early this month to market his own brand. A staffer at One Spirits said, "We are targeting the overseas markets so we are striving to develop the best-tasting soju."

    Another soju brand called Tokki is the creation of Brooklyn native Brandon Hill, who fell in love with it in Korea and built a distillery in the New York borough. He recently set up another distillery here in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province using local produce to make his liquor and opened Tokki Bar in the trendy Hongik University area of northwestern Seoul.

    Then there is Korean-American lawyer Carline Kim's Yobo soju, which is drawing rave reviews. Boasting a feisty alcohol content of 20 percent, Yobo won a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

    "Yobo" is a term of endearment meaning honey or darling. 

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