This Premium Soju Isn’t Served in a Watermelon

Hwayo Soju, a high-end Korean soju, is so smooth, you can drink this straight. No chaser needed.

The Hong cocktail, served at MW Restaurant last night, showcased the Hwayo 41. The drink also had Campari and grapefruit syrup and juice.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox


The only way I’ve had Korean soju is in a hollowed-out watermelon.


So it was a surprise to me you can enjoy the liquor—considered Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage—on its own.


Bottles of the premium Hwayo Soju, displayed at a launch event last night at MW Restaurant. (The restaurant does not serve hwayo yet.)


Hwayo Soju is a premium Korean spirit made entirely with Korean rice and no additives. It uses a vacuum distillation method in low temperature and is aged in ceramic kim chee pots, which helps develop the alcohol’s rich and soft flavor. Unlike the cheaper, chain-distilled soju—the ones in green bottles that you can find in just about any supermarket that are often made from a variety of starches including wheat, barely and sweet potatoes—Hwayo doesn’t have that harsh, bitter aftertaste. Meaning you can drink this straight out of the bottle.


Cho Tae-Kwon, chairman of KwangJuYo Group, which manages a line of porcelain tableware, two Michelin-starred restaurants and Hwayo Soju, developed the high-end soju to pair with elevated Korean cuisine.


The brand first launched in Hawai‘i five years ago with three alcohol contents—7 percent, 25 percent and 41 percent. Last night, at a formal sit-down dinner at MW Restaurant, the company debuted two other premium soju: Hwayo 53 and Hwayo X.Premium, a single-rice whiskey.


The point of the dinner was to showcase how well soju, like wine, can pair with elevated Korean-inspired dishes such as MW’s ‘ahi and foie gras torchon (Hwayo 17) and Brandt beef rib eye with red wine ume jus (Hwayo X.Premium).


MW’s Brandt beef rib eye was paired with Hwayo 41 and Hwayo X.Premium soju.


“Food crosses cultural barriers because everyone loves it,” explained Jeff Chung, general manager of Korean television station KBFD, who had invited me. “The idea is to elevate Korean culture through its cuisine.”


Hwayo, which is distributed locally by Lotus Spirits, is now served in about a dozen restaurants in Hawai‘i, including Alan Wong’s Honolulu, Yauatcha, Herringbone Waikīkī, Budnamujip, Choi’s Garden and Sorabol. You can purchase Hwayo, which is pricier than mass-produced soju, at Don Quijote, Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors, 88 Pal Pal Supermarket and Pālama Supermarket. And soon, more than 35 additional restaurants and retailers will be carrying or serving the premium soju.


If you’re into soju—or just like sampling new spirits—Hwayo is worth a (neat) shot.