It’s not bourbon, but you should be drinking Tokki Soju
We don’t typically write about clear spirits (whiskey included), but we are going to make an exception for Tokki Soju. It’s just that good.
For those unfamiliar with soju, it is a Korean spirit traditionally distilled from rice. While the ABV of soju can vary, most fall in the 20% ABV range. Consequently, soju is viewed as an easy-sipping spirit that can be enjoyed by the bottle during celebrations with friends and family.
Despite its popularity in many Asian countries, soju has been slow to gain traction in the US. However, as we learned from the rise of vodka in the 1970’s, a clear, versatile spirit that appeals to a wide range of drinkers can make waves in the spirit market. Can soju be that spirit?
Who better to ask than Brandon Hill, owner and creator of Tokki Soju (Brooklyn, NY), the first American small batch traditional rice soju. We sat down with Brandon to ask him a few questions about this relatively unknown spirit.
BS: My guess is that many Americans have never heard of soju. Why do you think US drinkers will embrace this product?
BH: I think Americans will embrace soju because they have already started embracing Korean food. Sushi and sake have become extremely popular in the US and are fully integrated in many Americans diets. I think Soju and Korean BBQ will be next.
BS: When we first spoke you mentioned that soju was traditionally made from grains, but due to government restrictions has recently been distilled from other starchy products such as sweet potatoes. Can you talk about this briefly? And why did you think it was important to make your spirit in the traditional manner?
BH: Yes, soju was originally made from rice. However, the use of rice was banned for alcohol production for decades because it was needed to feed the armies. Rice is more expensive than the other alternatives currently used (sorghum, sweet potato, tapioca) so distillers never made the jump back to rice after the ban was lifted in 1999. There are still some traditional producers that make rice soju, but they are not exported to the US. Only the very sugary, artificial sojus make it to the US, so the new Michelin star Korean restaurants in the US couldn’t even pair their food with quality Korean alcohol. Until Tokki. We don’t use any additives, chemicals, or sugars…everything we do is traditional.
BS: How do you think Tokki is best enjoyed (neat, rocks, in cocktails etc.)?
BH: Soju is traditionally served neat at room temperature or chilled. I think our 40% ABV Tokki Black is great neat or in cocktails. It’s a very versatile spirit.
We conducted the Tokki Soju Black tasting at a superb craft cocktail bar in Gainesville, FL – Sidecar Bar. I was lucky enough to share a few glasses with General Manager, Dan Calkins, and Bar Manager, Jim Asp. The notes below are a composite of our comments.
Product: Tokki Black
Nose: Complex and delicate, with an earthy sweetness that is reminiscent of an unfiltered sake. Light herbal notes become apparent once the spirit opens up in the glass. The alcohol is present, but not to the extent of a vodka or white whiskey.
Palate: Tokki Black is incredibly unique. Dan and Jim both compared it to pisco, but less sweet and with more herbal and floral notes (especially with a splash of water). The best part of Tokki Black is that each sip provides something different – a trait I rarely encounter in clear spirits. This is an outstanding, intrig
uing product that more people need to experience.
Given Tokki Black’s complexity and subtle flavors, we couldn’t help but wonder how it would perform in a cocktail. And what kind of flavors would it blend well with? We of course had to try a few options (or many) – the winning recipe is below. Sip on!
1.5 oz Tokki Soju Black
1 oz Carpano Bianco
2 bar spoons Yellow Chartreuse
4 drops Jack Rudy Bitters
Stirred and served over a gentleman’s cube
Garnished with a lemon twist
Thoughts: This is just a perfect cocktail. It is extremely spirit forward (which I prefer), but is exceptionally well balanced. The sweet and floral characteristics of the Carpano Bianco are ideal compliments for the herbal notes in the Tokki Black. Go buy some Tokki and try this cocktail – Dan and Jim created a winner.