[CBS News] In Bergen County, Controversy Brews Over Popular Korean Drink ‘Soju’

PALISADES PARK, N.J.(CBSNewYork) — Controversy is brewing in Bergen County over a popular Korean drink.

Palisades Park is home to one of the nation’s largest Korean populations. Inside some stores and restaurants on Broad Street many patrons can’t live without ‘soju’ a distilled liquor, traditionally made from wheat, rice, or barley.

“If you go to Europe people drink wine with their food, usually,” attorney B.J. Kim explained, “In Korea, the food goes very well with this drink called soju. It’s a people’s drink. It’s been there for ages.”

As CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, soju, which tastes somewhat like sake, can be found in almost every liquor store in Palisades Park.

“I have lived in Palisades Park most of my life and soju is wonderful, and there is no other drink that goes better with their food other than tea,” Kevin martin said.

Only restaurants with liquor licenses are allowed to sell soju, and ‘bring your own bottle’ establishments can’t allow it to be brought in.

“Under the New Jersey State Law soju is not considered beer or wine. I think it is kind of in a gray area,” Palisades Park Business Administrator David Lorenzo said.

Kim is trying to change that. He is working with a lawmaker who is drafting a bill that would allow soju in BYOB restaurants.

As Kim explained, two other states have changed laws to cater to the growing Korean population.

“California and New York determined in order to carry soju in their state it has to be less than 24-percent alcohol by volume and it has to be imported from Korea,” Kim said.

Restaurants with liquor licenses have put up a spirited fight.

“I kind of have to sympathize with restaurants who have spent a half a million dollars or upwards of it, and the guy next to me is selling soju. That would bother me as well,” Lorenzo said.

Town officials say they will continue to enforce alcohol laws and hand out tickets until the state decides whether soju is more like wine or similar to vodka.

BYOB restaurants spend thousands of dollars a year on beer and wine licenses.