The great green devil: soju. Should New Jersey legalize it as beer & wine?

Today’s New Jersey Herald debates whether or not the state should legal recognize the sale, or otherwise handling of, soju as under “beer & wine” licenses.  This provision has already been established under NY and CA law, but New Jersey currently includes soju as a “hard liquor” that can only be sold in establishments with a full on liquor license.

(Image from The Guardian)

The difference between a full liquor license and a beer & wine license is monetarily vast.  A liquor license can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but a beer & wine license is only a couple of hundred bucks.  The Korean community got the CA and NY governments to acquiesce by debating that the old liquor laws “inhibited their traditional culture” to routinely consume their “traditional” drink.

Kim, the attorney representing… businesses in Palisades Park [NJ], said that soju is “close to the heart” in Korean culture, and it can contain less alcohol — between 16 and 24 percent — than some wines. He compared it to beer because it is first fermented, and to Sake, the Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. “It’s not hard liquor,” he said.

Not “hard liquor” huh?  It’s “fermented,” huh?  Listen, I like swigging soju in a local restaurant as much as the next guy, but the average soju in those “green monster” bottles are most certainly distilled rather than fermented and if it’s not a “hard liquor” then it’s awfully close to it.  Gotta love lawyers and their ability to swerve around words.

Apparently, NJ’s laws being so different from neighboring NY’s laws have caused some Korean establishments to cheat:

Soju’s popularity has led to some problems in restaurants in Palisades Park and beyond, where police have issued summonses for its illegal sale and consumption.


In Palisades Park [alone], more than 20 citations have been issued in the last year to BYOBs for a variety of violations, including serving soju…

  • cactusmcharris

    ‘Close to the heart’? More like ‘eating my stomach lining’, but this was admittedly in the days before artisan soju was made.

  • redwhitedude

    Let’s keep everybody happy.
    Just treat it as soda. lol

    Kidding aside. I think it should fall under liquor license. Take a look at the alcohol content of that stuff.

  • AsiaNewsWeekly

    There shouldn’t even be a debate on this matter. Soju is a distilled spirit, period. It should be treated as such, even though the ABV is significantly lower than other drinks sold in the US.

  • redwhitedude

    I find the “cultural” argument to be amusing.

  • Cloudfive

    That’s bullshit. It’s industrial solvent. They probably got away with it in NY and CA because lawmakers thought it was akin to sake, a legitimate fermented beverage.

  • dlbarch

    Other than such “fortified” wines like sherry, port, madeira, banyuls, and maury, I know of no regular wine — not even a California Zin or an Aussie Shiraz — that comes anywhere near that “16 to 24 percent” range mentioned by attorney Kim.


  • wangkon936


  • A Korean

    Soju is a cheap-ass foul-tasting rotgut junk, and that’s its virtue. Maybe due to nostalgia/familiarity, but I find it goes down well with samgyupsal, maeuntang, etc.

  • A Korean

    I remember hearing that soju was cheaper than bottled water.

  • brier

    Attorney Kim must have been imbibing the stuff to say it was fermented and fortified like wine. (Did he say it with a straight face?) To bamboozle the laws under the guise of ‘traditional culture’ says a sorry lot about those Democratic Party voting states.

  • bumfromkorea

    Soju’s greatest virtue is that it’s dirt cheap. It goes pretty well with some Korean food (sorta…), but it’s main purpose is to get you drunk for a bargain price.

    But then again…

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    Beer and wine licenses are cheaper and more plentiful because patrons are less likely to get hammered. And the only thing soju is good for is getting stinking drunk in a jiffy. Traditional culture arguments? If Koreans want traditional culture, they can move back to the peninsula where soju flows freely and cheaply.