St. Louisan bringing world’s best selling spirit home and to America

St. Louisan bringing world’s best selling spirit home and to America

Soju is one of the world’s most popular liquors. It’s the No. 1-selling liquor by volume and sales have only been growing in recent years. Yet the United States only represents 5% of the market.  Soju is finally starting to gain traction in the states, thanks to St. Louisan Max Fine and his company West 32 Soju.

What is Soju?

Soju is, at its most basic, a clear grain neutral spirit. Soju translated in English literally means “distilled liqour” – after it comes off the still, it is proofed down to around 16%-24% ABV. It’s from Korea and is mostly consumed there as well as Japan and China. Soju is neutral-tasting like vodka but doesn’t have the harsh alcohol burn thanks to having around half the percentage of alcohol (and thus half the calories). It’s traditionally consumed straight with food – like a table vodka and a palate cleanser, but soju is quickly becoming a popular spirit for mixologists.

Soju is traditionally made from rice, but that changed during the Korean War. Distilling rice was banned, so Koreans started making soju with alternative starches like wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, and tapioca. The ban was lifted in the late 1990s, but many of the best selling brands in Korea still use alternative starches. West 32 Soju is made with corn.

West 32 Soju

So, what is a Parkway Central graduate doing trying to bring the most popular spirit in Asia to his hometown and beyond? “My good friend in college, Daniel Lee, is Korean. After college we both went to New York, where we both became regulars at bars and restaurants in Koreatown,” said Fine. “Korea Town is located at West 32 Street, and that is where I was introduced to soju.”

After several years of enjoying soju, Fine says he had enough of the hangover, and it was in 2015, while sitting with Lee at Pocha 32 in NYC, that he had his “ah-ha” moment. “I just could not drink it anymore, due to the sweetness and the hangover,” said Fine. “At the time the soju market was dominated by a handful of companies and they made it too sweet, by using too many artificially sweeteners. I thought, ‘why not make it all-natural, and create an elevated soju.”

West 32 Soju was born. Fine and Lee spent the next year studying the industry while working on their recipe. They elected to go with a corn-based recipe, and 4 years later, they are distilling soju in Clifton Park, New York, near Albany.

Currently, the company’s portfolio consists of two offerings. West 32 Soju, which is available in 375 ml and 750 ml bottles at 20% ABV, and West 32 Reserve Soju which is a barrel-aged version, available in 375 ml and 750 ml bottles at 32% ABV.

Versatile Spirit

With the growth of Korean culture in America, (K-pop and Korean cuisine) more Americans are learning about soju. Additionally, a growing trend among American consumers is low calorie and low ABV, (alcohol by volume) options, making soju is a natural choice. Additionally, soju is a great complement spirit to any cocktail.

Another popular way to enjoy soju might remind you of your old college drinking days. Somaek, is what you may remember as a boilermaker, a beer plus a shot of soju. Since the sou is so light, you can pour the shot of soju into the beer and give it a kick of alcohol without altering the flavor. 

The Traditional Experience

“Soju captures a social experience and the essence of sharing a spirit with friends and family over a table of food,” said Fine. “You never pour your own soju; it’s always consumed as a communal drink. For the first drink, an older member in the group will pour some soju into a shot glass and hand it to you. You take that shot glass with two hands, turn your face to the side so you aren’t making eye contact with the person who handed you the glass and shoot it. After the first drink, glasses are filled up whenever they’re empty, and people pass the bottle around the table. You can sip it if you want, but shooting it is more common.”

Where you can find Soju in St. Louis?

You can find bottles of Fine’s West 32 Soju for purchase for your home bar or at for cocktails when you’re out and about. Here’s a list. Call ahead for specific availability.

  • Blood & Sand
  • Bao (in Clayton)
  • Mai Lee
  • Wine & Cheese Place (Clayton and Chesterfield locations)
  • Whole Foods – Town & Country location
  • Billie Jean
  • Blue Ocean Sushi in the Loop
  • Tani Sushi
  • Red Door Liquor -Eureka
  • Bombay Wine and Spirits St Charles
  • Local Harvest Grocery

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