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Price hikes open door for South Korea's small-batch soju makers

Rising cost of entrenched 'bland lagers' also a boon for craft brewers

South Korea's biggest soju maker, Hite Jinro, sparked a bout of national hand-wringing in May when it raised the price of its top-selling brand. (Photo by Steven Borowiec)

SEOUL -- At Nokcheon, a traditional barbecue restaurant in Seoul's noisy Seongbok district on Saturday evening, diners crowded around sizzling platters of pork belly, cold beer and soju, the clear liquor that is South Korea's national drink.

But despite the festive atmosphere, these are tough times for lovers of the spirit made from grains and potatoes that tastes slightly sweeter than vodka and is often referred to as "the people's liquor."

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