The Business of Drinking in Asia
You're at a local Chinese restaurant for some late night greasy grub and you look over to see a group of diners drinking from exceptionally small shot glasses and unfamiliar bottles of alcohol. It's definitely not soju and probably not sake - what could it be?
Alcohol consumption plays a key role in both business and leisure functions in Asia. The three major countries located in East Asia - South Korea, Japan, and China - each have their own variations of rice liquor, ranging from 20-60% ABV (Alcohol By Volume). You are probably the most familiar with soju and sake from frequent Korean BBQ and endless sushi outings. Though all are made with rice, each beverage has a distinct flavor and level of smoothness depending on its production. Check out our cheat sheet to these East Asian liquors below - Gan Bei!
Ever wonder what's inside all those green bottles scattered across tables at your favorite Korean BBQ spot? Soju, a traditionally distilled rice beverage, makes up the majority of South Korea's alcoholic beverage market. Known as the country that takes the most shots out of any other in the world, South Korea is not a nation to be easily dismissed in the alcohol industry. Served in signature green bottles, soju (20% ABV) can be described as a slightly sweeter version of vodka due to the sugars added during the manufacturing process. Like vodka, it is often drunk neat and sometimes in a cocktail. Because of its cheap price, soju remains one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Korea, often widely consumed at various major business functions or even during dinner at a family get together. Next time you go out for kalbi (beef ribs) and bulgogi (marinated sirloin), order a bottle of flavored soju to further embrace the Korean dining experience...but beware, soju is known for crawling up on you!
Soju Haus 315 5th Ave New York, NY 10016
Whenever you go to a Japanese restaurant, you often hear the term "saké bombs". But what exactly is saké? Its origin dates as far back as 800 A.D and although this liquor is often referred to as "rice wine", the actual process of producing saké (20% ABV) is similar to that of beer except the conversion from starch to sugar, and in turn from sugar to alcohol, occurs simultaneously. A dominant alcohol in Japan, saké is commonly used for religious ceremonies, festivals, and drinking games. Its relatively sweet flavor and smoothness have contributed to it becoming a household name amongst foreigners when it comes to Asian liquor. The next time you're craving saké bombs, head to Saké Bar Decibel, NYC's original Japanese saké bar. One step in the door will take you the closest to Japan you can get without stepping on a plane.
Sake Bar Deicbel 240 E 9th St New York, NY 10003
In western countries, baijiu (40-60% ABV) is the less well-known sister of soju and saké. Yes, South Koreans are known for taking the most shots but baijiu, a distilled liquor made out of a cereal grain, is still the world's best-selling spirit. The go-to in China, baijiu is immensely popular with Chinese drinkers but has not yet caught on amongst foreigners. Beware - do not let baijiu's clear color fool you. It may look like vodka, but in actuality, it tastes nothing like anything on the American market. Initially slightly sweet, this spirit has a bitter alcohol-heavy aftertaste and you are sure to feel the burning sensation of the liquid going down your throat. For a baby step introduction to this liquor, we recommend indulging in a baijiu-based cocktail. One of our favorite spots is Lumos, NYC's first baijiu-centric bar. Make sure to order the Sesame Colada, made with mangosteen, caramelized pineapple, agave, and white sesame paste. There's no better drink for enduring the summer heat.
Lumos 90 W Houston St New York, NY 10012