Tokki Soju: Creating Korean Alcohol In Brooklyn
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If you had to guess what the most popular liquor in the world is, what would you say? Vodka? Wrong. Whiskey? Wrong. Gin? Wrong. The correct answer is one that surprises most people in the west: Soju.

What is soju, you ask? It’s a clear Korean distilled alcohol with a fairly low ABV that’s consumed mostly in Korea, Japan, and China. Traditional soju was made with rice until 1965, when the South Korean government banned usage of rice for alcohol to alleviate shortages. Even though that provision was lifted in 1999, many mainstream brands continue to use harsh chemicals and starches. That can’t be good for you in large quantities (and we do mean large quantities – over 100 million 9-liter cases of the liquor were sold in 2016).

So what’s a health conscious alcohol lover to do? Look no further than Tokki, a Brooklyn-based soju brand started by Brandon Hill in 2016. With the goal of bringing high quality clean soju back to the public, Tokki uses only the best ingredients and no artificial flavors or chemicals. It’s made from organic American sticky rice, water, and nuruk, a traditional yeast that they cultivate by hand.

We chatted with Hill, who moved to Korea in 2011, the year of the Rabbit, to study traditional Korean fermentation practices and distilling techniques at Kyonggi University. While in Korea, he fell in love with the country’s drinking culture, in which people sit down together, pour for each other, and treat the alcohol with respect.

He fell in love with the country's drinking culture, in which people sit down together, pour for each other, and treat the alcohol with respect.

After coming back to the States, he took a job as head distiller at Van Brunt Stillhouse, but he was disappointed that he wasn’t able to find the traditional soju that he had enjoyed in Korea. So he started making it himself. When restaurants and the Korean community accepted it, he knew he was onto something. Van Brunt Stillhouse became a partner and Tokki, which means “rabbit” in Korean, was born. Now available in a variety of restaurants and shops in New York, the brand has expanded steadily, and with an increasing interest in Korean culture and cuisine, we can only imagine it will continue to grow.