The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2010

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Page 82 of 100

CATEGORY repOrT Less is So Much More LOWER IN ALCOHOL AND CALORIES THAN VODKA, MiXABLe sOJu FINDS—AND EXPANDS—ITS NICHE by Anthony Dias Blue “O ur favorite way to turn people on to soju is to have them taste test it on the rocks against their favorite vodka,” says Trent Ulicny, co-founder of runaway brand TY KU, a spin-off of his original TY KU Liqueur. “We just drop a cucumber slice in each glass and have people try them side by side.” TY KU has been making converts for soju nationwide, and he attributes their success to three factors. “First, as the cucumber test proves, with soju you don’t need a lot of heavy or artificial flavors to mask the burn of vodka.” Soju bonds to flavors so easily, explains Ulicny, because it’s made with koji, a specially-cultivated fungus that initiates fermentation of soju’s raw materials—in TY KU’s case, barley, for its cleaner taste—and also adds its own subtle flavor components. Whereas some sojus are distilled just once and retain more of the original material’s flavor, TY KU is triple-distilled, resulting in a smooth product that better appeals to the American palate. “We get at least one request a month to go international,” says Ulicny, but for now, he plans to concentrate on developing the American market. A second factor in soju’s soaring success is the product’s unique position in the hierarchy of alcoholic beverages, where it is slotted between wine and spirits on the proof scale. In two important states, California and New York, soju containing 24 percent or less alcohol can slide neatly into accounts that don’t have full liquor licenses, making it an ideal substitute for vodka in their cocktail programs. (Nevada currently mandates products of 20 percent alcohol and under at beer-and-wine licensees, nixing 48-proof TY KU and other similar-strength sojus.) The third reason for soju’s growing popularity, Ulicny recognizes, its low calorie count. “At just 68 calories per serving,” says the brand owner, “you can mix a complete cocktail with TY KU and still be well under the calorie count of a Vodka & Soda.” For comparison purposes, one high-fly- ing French vodka delivers 115 calories per dose. Ulicny realizes that there’s a huge learning curve ahead before American buyers and consumers are fully up to speed on soju and shochu, not to mention the Japanese sakés that TY KU also produces. That’s why TY KU’s invested lots of time and money on training for their sales staff, who in TY KU Soju’s low calories and low alcohol make it a phenomenal success. 82 / the tasting panel / june 2010

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