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Rise of ‘mild’ alcohol epitomises shift in Korea's drinking culture
Publication Date : 27-09-2013
It is not a secret: Koreans love to drink.
Whether it is for celebration or commiseration, a birthday party or a send-off for a colleague, the most popular phrase to invite someone to a special occasion seems to be “let’s go get a glass (of alcohol).”
What goes in the glass, however, has recently undergone a transition.
In the past, going for a drink was roughly equivalent to going to get drunk. This paved way for the popularity of the “poktanju (bomb-drink),” mixture of beer and other alcohol, usually whiskey.
Lately, however, the trend has changed toward people enjoying the tastes of drinks and hanging out with others. And rather than mixing whiskey and beer, more are adding soju to make “somaek” (mixture of soju and beer), which is preferred for its “mild” taste.
“We (college students) usually prefer somaek because it tastes better, softer. We even have a formula on how to make the perfect somaek,” said a 27-year-old university student surnamed Yu.
Soju and beer are not the only drinks that are combined for better taste. Soju cocktails and beer cocktails - which respectively blend soju or beer with soft drinks - have been more preferred as well. Other drinks with less alcohol are also enjoying a surge in popularity.
The Korea Customs Service said that imports of beer for the first half of 2013 were up 21 per cent year-on-year. Consumption of Korean traditional alcohol such as makgeoli - which contains a meager 6 per cent alcohol by volume - also increased.
In contrast, less people are enjoying drinks that have a high level of ABV, such as whiskey.
According to KCS, whiskey imports plunged last year by 14 per cent from 18 million litres the year before. The amount of whiskey released in the market in the first six months of this year was some 920,000 boxes, 13.5 per cent less than during the same period in 2012.
Declining whiskey sales hardly mean Koreans are drinking less. The Korea Alcohol & Liquor Industry Association announced in March that yearly alcohol consumption for 2011 was 9.18 litres, just a tad less than 9.2 litres in 2010.
In addition to the new drinking culture, the prolonged economic slump also contributed to the downfall of whiskey. Low growth has led to people cutting expenses everywhere, and whiskey was looked at as dispensable luxury.