What a Newbie Needs to Know about Soju, One of the World’s Most Popular Spirits Even if you fancy yourself a true connoisseur of liquors, you may be surprised to learn that based on the sales, the most popular spirit in the world isn’t vodka, whisky or rum but soju, a traditional Korean drink.
(The soju brand Jinro is the best-selling spirit in the world, according to,) Though many Westerners once tended to dismiss soju as a low-alcohol “Korean vodka” you might quaff at a karaoke bar, the liquor is becoming increasingly visible in the West, and you may find yourself downing a shot or two at a fancy bar sooner than you think.
“Soju’s on a similar trajectory as mezcal,” said Kyungmoon Kim, former head of wine and beverage at the Michelin-starred Jungsik restaurant in New York, and founder of KSM Imports, which specializes in artisanal liquors from South Korea. “Ten or 15 years ago, nobody thought of mezcal except as a cheap bottle with a little worm inside that gave you a headache.
Now there are so many different mezcals with different price points, depending on where the mezcal came from, up to $200 a bottle, and people are starting to understand the flavor profile and story behind each product. Soju right now everyone knows as flavorless, green-bottle soju, so we’re trying to change people’s perceptions to see that soju is a beverage with a lot of flavor and complexity.” Pexels / Roi Mojado Soju is an alcoholic beverage distilled from various starchy crops, originally and primarily still produced on the Korean peninsula.
The alcohol content can range anywhere from around 15% to over 50%, and the quality can vary greatly. It got its start in the 13th century, when invading Mongols brought with them distillation techniques they themselves had learned in the Middle East and similar to those still used today to make single-malt scotch or cognac.
Soju” in fact means “burnt liquor,” in reference to how it’s made. At this point, soju was made only from rice wine, and averaged about 40% to 50% alcohol. Eventually, each town of a reasonable size had its own local soju distiller; those distillers sold to their neighbors and had a recipe that was handed down from generation to generation.
In 1965, amid shortages of the staple of the Korean diet, the South Korean government passed a law that forbade rice in the making of soju, so soju makers switched to substitutes like barley, sweet potatoes, wheat and tapioca. To increase profits, they began diluting soju, too, a trend that continues to this day, as well as adding sweeteners and other flavors to make their product more palatable.
- Those changes also had unintended consequences in shaking up the South Korean alcohol industry and have been blamed for giving rise to a heavy drinking culture in the country.
- It forced a lot of small brewers to close down, and the big conglomerates who could use barley or sweet potato or even imported tapioca to keep the costs down were the only ones to survive,” Kim said.
“Those products made sense at a time when people barely made enough money to bring food to the table and needed to get through the day, and cheap soju still brings nostalgic memories for our fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations, but the tradition of distilled rice wine pretty much disappeared.” In 1999, the government lifted the rice ban, but cheap soju only continued to grow in popularity both inside and outside of South Korea.
- Still, artisanal soju makers have started to gain a following by resurrecting the age-old methods and putting out higher-alcohol soju made from rice.
- Though it’s tempting to compare Korea’s most famous alcoholic beverage to Japan’s most famous alcoholic beverage, sake, that’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges situation.
Sake is a rice wine (though it’s actually brewed like beer), while soju is a distilled beverage. Koreans have their own rice wine, makgeolli, which is an analog to Japanese sake, while Japan has shochu, which is similar to soju. (“Soju” and “shochu” are even written with the same Chinese characters.) Soju is mostly drunk as a shot, downed in a single gulp.
The host will serve the eldest guest first, then everyone else. Instead of “cheers,” say ” geonbae, ” which literally means “dry the glass” and is a sign of respect to the pourer. Always finish what’s in your glass before accepting another pour, and no one should ever fill their glass themselves. Serve and receive pours of soju with both hands—to do otherwise is disrespectful.
There’s a misconception floating around that you have to turn your head to the side and look away from the pourer when you drink, but that’s probably based on a foreigner misreading the fact that eye contact is not common practice in Korean culture—it’s seen as aggressive in a society where polite deference is the default.
- Popular soju-based drinks include what’s sometimes referred to as a “yogurt soju cocktail,” which isn’t made with actual yogurt but with Yakult, a sweet, milky Japanese probiotic drink that comes in small plastic bottles.
- The recipe’s as simple as they get: Mix one bottle of Yakult with one bottle of soju (any inexpensive, “green bottle” soju will do).
Not surprisingly, it’s a cocktail associated with younger drinkers. More broadly popular is somaek, a portmanteau of “soju” and “maekju,” Korean for “beer.” It’s basically a boilermaker—drop a shot of soju in a glass of beer and gulp it down. Soju is an easy substitute for vodka in most recipes.
- Im recommends soju in any of the martini family of cocktails, while barley soju, with its spicier grain finish, works well in place of whiskey.
- If you can find it, a pine-based soju is an excellent stand-in for gin.
- Look for higher-quality artisanal soju, if possible, as you’ll find it much more complex and intriguing.
Pairing soju with food isn’t a big thing in Korea, as the typical meal doesn’t involve courses but everything on the table at once in a communal setting, so you can’t approach it like you would a wine pairing, where the food and wine get equal billing.
- It can give a supporting complement to the food rather than, like wine, actualy making the food more complex,” Kim said.
- The traditional rice-based soju goes well with beef dishes, and there’s barley soju that works nicely with pork belly.” Soju typically lives in the Asian section of your local liquor store, alongside Japanese sake and shochu.
It’s also possible to order soju online in most states. Most of what you’ll find in the States will be the cheaper, mass-market stuff, but it’s worth exploring your better-connected stores for the occasional standouts that have made it across the Pacific.
The company dominates the soju market, accounting for half of South Korea’s soju sales. It’s reintroduced old-style packaging, specifically a sky-blue bottle with the label “Jinro Is Back,” which contains a clean, neutral soju that is a pleasant, refreshing example of what a modern soju can be., by The Han, is made from the ripened Asian golden plum and cold-filtered and has a floral aroma with dry aftertaste.
“Seoul Night will take your soju game to the next level, and you will never look back,” Kim said., by Solsonju, is made from an old family recipe with rice, pine needles and spruce tea. Kim described it as “exceptionally nuanced, yet offers a refreshing finish with a hint of juniper and sansho pepper spice.” Considered the most exclusive soju available today, Samhae soju was once served only to Korean aristocracy, and today boasts the Intangible Cultural Heritage stamp from the government.
Can 1 bottle of soju get you drunk?
How Much Soju Will Get You Drunk? – To get intoxicated, it will take about five to seven standard drinks of soju. A glass of soju is typically 50ml, so one bottle of soju can make around seven shots. Generally, the average shots of soju you can take to get drunk are between five to seven, which makes roughly one soju bottle.
But if you’re drinking with friends, you would never stop at a single bottle, right? If you consume two bottles, you might get drunk the moment you finish the second bottle. How about three to four bottles of soju? Well, you can probably pass out and not remember a thing the next day, plus the “unpleasant feeling” of a soju hangover.
But mind you — this won’t apply to everybody, as there are factors of how alcohol affects the body, including your alcohol tolerance, body composition, the way you’re drinking, and the soju type you’re consuming.
How much alcohol is in a shot of soju?
Soju Always Brings the Party – Starch or grain aside, soju’s the go-to booze for Korean celebrations. Its vaguely sweet, milky flavor makes drinking an entire bottle easy. “In a fun way, it’s kind of a dangerous alcohol,” says Max Soh, general manager and beverage director of New York’s intimate and chic Korean restaurant Oiji,
- On average, soju is about 20% ABV, which is between hard liquor and wine.
- You’re drinking it and it kind of sneaks up on you.
- The next thing you know, the bottle is gone.” Soh says the tradition of drinking a bottle of soju is ingrained from a young age.
- It’s not the best liquor in the world, but it’s a social thing,” he says.
“A little green bottle, shot glasses around. We serve each other and you have to pour it with two hands for older people and you have to receive it with two hands from the older people. There are a lot of little traditions like that.”
How much alcohol is in a glass of soju?
Soju is a colorless grain-based distilled liquor with an average alcohol content of about 15 percent, with the exception of some high-proof sojus up to 50 percent.
Can you get drunk with 2 shots of soju?
The average number of shots that it takes to get a person tipsy drunk is roughly 7 shots or 1 bottle of soju. However, no one ever really stops at one bottle! Once you get to 2, you’re definitely going to be drunk. At 3, you’ll likely not remember anything the next day!
Does soju taste good?
What Does Soju Taste Like? – “In Korea, we have a saying that soju tastes like life — one day it’s sweet, one day it’s bitter, and sometimes it’s just clean and smooth,” says Yoon. “Traditionally, soju is fermented white rice with a crisp flavor, a little apple, and sometimes a touch of burnt rice.” Soju is often called the Korean vodka, since it’s smooth, mild, and mostly neutral, but it clocks in at about half the alcohol content.
How many drinks is 2 bottles of soju?
Soju and blood alcoholic content (BAC) Based on this assumption, two cups of soju equals one standard drink. One bottle contains approximately four standard drinks.
Is soju 40%?
History and production – Sot (cauldron), soju gori (distilling appliance), and different hangari (earthenware pots) for making traditional soju The origin of soju dates back to the 13th century Goryeo, when the Levantine distilling technique was introduced to the Korean Peninsula during the Mongol invasions of Korea (1231–1259), by the Yuan Mongols who had acquired the technique of distilling arak from the Persians during their invasions of the Levant, Anatolia, and Persia,
- The distilleries were set up around the city of Gaegyeong, the then capital (current Kaesong ).
- In the surrounding areas of Kaesong, soju is still called arak-ju ( 아락주 ).
- Andong soju, the direct root of modern South Korean soju varieties, started as the home-brewed liquor developed in the city of Andong, where the Yuan Mongols’ logistics base was located during this era.
Soju is traditionally made by distilling alcohol from fermented grains. The rice wine for distilled soju is usually fermented for about 15 days, and the distillation process involves boiling the filtered, mature rice wine in a sot ( cauldron ) topped with soju gori (two-storied distilling appliance with a pipe).
- In the 1920s, over 3,200 soju breweries existed throughout the Korean Peninsula.
- Soju referred to a distilled beverage with 35% ABV until 1965, when diluted soju with 30% ABV appeared with South Korean government’s prohibition of the traditional distillation of soju from rice, in order to alleviate rice shortages.
Instead, soju was created using highly distilled ethanol (95% ABV) from sweet potatoes and tapioca, which was mixed with flavorings, sweeteners, and water. The end products are marketed under a variety of soju brand names. A single supplier (Korea Ethanol Supplies Company) sells ethanol to all soju producers in South Korea.
Until the late 1980s, saccharin was the most popular sweetener used by the industry, but it has since been replaced by stevioside, Although the prohibition was lifted in 1999, cheap soju continues to be made this way. Diluted soju has showed a trend towards lower alcohol content. The ABV of 30% fell to 25% by 1973, and 23% by 1998.
Currently, soju with less than 17% ABV are widely available. In 2017, a typical 375-milliliter (13.2 imp fl oz; 12.7 U.S. fl oz) bottle of diluted soju retails at ₩ 1,700 (approximately $ 1.69) in supermarkets and convenience stores, and for ₩ 4,000–5,000 (approximately $ 3.99–4.98) in restaurants.
Is soju 12%?
With a mild alcohol content of 12%, it is much easier to drink. soju can be enjoyed straight or it can lend itself as a perfect cocktail ingredient.
Is soju stronger than gin?
This week, the 2018 Winter Olympics will kick off in PyeongChang, South Korea, While the athletes probably won’t be among this group (at least not until they’re finished with competition), a good number of people will celebrate meals by knocking back some soju, Soju is traditionally consumed as shots. Getty Images How is it made? Traditional soju is made from a blend of rice and grains. From the 1960s to the 1990s, using rice was banned in soju production because it was in such short supply, so sojus were made with other starches like sweet potatoes and wheat.
Even though the ban is no longer in place, many soju producers look beyond rice for their starches. How is it consumed? In Korean company, soju is typically drunk out of small glasses and imbibers don’t traditionally serve themselves. “It’s very interactive,” says Simon Kim, the owner of Cote, a new and buzzy Korean steakhouse in New York City, which serves four premium sojus and uses the liquor in cocktails.
“I pour you a glass, you pour me a glass, we toast, drink, and then do it all over again.” Since it’s about 20-percent ABV, it sits somewhere between wine and harder booze like gin and whiskey in terms of potency. Soju is known for its green bottles. Getty Images What does it taste like? “Rubbing alcohol,” says Kim. “Watered-down vodka” is another way he describes the flavor. The taste can vary, but in cocktails you’ll see it used as a vodka substitute. How much does it cost? Next to nothing, which probably explains its popularity. Courtesy Chum Churum Original Soju (375-ml) Buy Now $8.99 Jinro 24 Soju (1.75 L) Buy Now $16.99 Simon Kim owns Cote, New York City’s first Korean steakhouse. Gary He Contributing Digital Editor Sam Dangremond is a Contributing Digital Editor at Town & Country, where he covers men’s style, cocktails, travel, and the social scene.
Why do Koreans shake soju?
How to Drink Soju Like a True Korean Soju, the so-called “Korean firewater”, is one of the world’s most popular spirits. In recent years, this South Korean export has become a global favorite, selling more than any other liquor brand in the world. However, despite its popularity, many are still not aware that one does not simply open a bottle of the rice spirit and start drinking it with abandon.
- There are a few certain rituals that are commonly practiced before and after cracking the cap open.
- A soju must-do, especially in South Korea, is to shake the bottle vigorously until a “mini-whirlpool” is created and then hit the bottle’s base against one’s elbow, open the cap, and then hit the neck of the bottle with fingers spread.
According to, the custom of shaking the bottle began during the era when cheaply made corks were used instead of the metal cap commonly used now. Drinkers would shake the bottle so that cork residue would rise to the top. They would then hit the neck of the bottle to get rid of the crumbs of the cork powder.
The practice has stayed on despite the cap having long been replaced since it is believed that shaking the bottle also properly mixes alkaline water particles with the alcohol. For those drinking in South Korea, or drinking among South Korean friends, here are some important reminders to keep in mind: Soju may be enjoyed at room temperature, but is also served chilled in the summer and warm in the winter. When in a group, remember that the first shot is always drunk together.
Don’t forget to always use Soju shot glasses as it is considered improper to drink straight from the bottle. It is also customary to let someone pour your shot for you while you pour the shot for another. Be sure to use both hands when doing either pouring or receiving to show respect.
- Also important to note — never let your friends sit with an empty glass.
- Another show of respect requires pouring for an older person and avoiding direct face to face contact with them when drinking.
- To avoid offending the elderly, it is advised to turn your head to the side.
- Lastly, make sure to keep the soju flowing by making sure your drinking buddies are poured with shots in a timely manner.
And with any fun experience involving alcohol, please enjoy responsibly. A daily dose of Asian America’s essential stories, in under 5 minutes. Get our collection of Asian America’s most essential stories to your inbox daily for free. Unsure? Check out our,
Can you drink soju in one go?
Etiquette and how to drink soju – Photo: /Shutterstock There are traditional rituals guiding the consumption of soju, and much of it goes back to the fact that people aren’t meant to drink soju alone. The very nature of soju is communal. “People do drink it alone, but I think that there’s really a sense of sharing with friends and family,” says Kim.
- Case in point: You’re not supposed to pour your own drinks.
- Instead, wait for a friend or seatmate to fill your glass when it’s empty.
- You return the favor when the time is right (whatever you do, don’t drink straight from the bottle).
- Both the glass that’s being refilled and the bottle being poured should be held with two hands.
If you’re drinking soju straight, which is the most common approach, it’s served in a shot glass. This is slightly misleading. It might be tempting to shoot soju, but it’s more common practice to gradually sip. Kim compares soju pours to small pours of whiskey one would savor rather drink down in one gulp.
There is one exception: The first pour of soju should be taken as a shot. If you want to adhere strictly to tradition (which might be appropriate depending on setting) turn your head away from dining companions when taking the shot as a sign of respect. If you’ve been to a Korean restaurant, you may have noticed people shaking the soju bottle before opening it.
This tradition stems from when soju bottles were corked rather than secured with a metal cap. Bits of the cork would crumble into the drink, so you’d have to shake the bottle to get the sediment to rise to the top. Once the cork popped off, you’d tap the base the bottle with your elbow, followed by a swift hit with the webbing between your middle and pointer fingers to release a small splash of liquid, supposedly to release the unwanted chunks of cork from the bottle.
Is soju stronger than tequila?
Tequila vs So-Ju I will introduce Tequila, comparing with So-Ju. Tequila has greatly been loved by Mexican people, similar to So-Ju that has been Korean representative drink from long time ago. But there are several difference between Tequila and So-Ju.
Tequila is much more stronger than So-Ju. It has about 40% of alcohol, while So-Ju has about 20%. It seems that Tequila matches well with passionate Mexican people because of its strong taste. On the other hand, So-ju is relatively thin and its smell is also not as strong as that of Tequila’s. Many Koreans think taste and smell of So-Ju is bitter.
Even many who love So-Ju don’t want to smell it. There is different way to drink Tequila. People usually drink it with a peace of lemon or salt to neutralize its strong taste. In contrast, we drink So-Ju with many dishes so called “An-Ju”. An-Ju is a peculiar custom to Korea.
- I guess it’s because our ancestors have enjoyed booze with dinner.
- Tequila, folk liquor of Tequila region in Mexico, was once not recognized as that high ranked booze.
- But it created great sensation with one kind jazz music that had same name in 60s.
- Especially when Mexico Olympic Games were held, It could become generally known world-widely and get its fame as today.
So-Ju is also our traditional booze and I believe it has great possibility to develop to high grade liquor. Nevertheless, It’s still favorite booze for only Koreans. I hope it will be loved in many countries in the future. : Tequila vs So-Ju
Is soju heavier than beer?
Taste, Flavor and Usage – This difference in production techniques results in differences in flavour profiles: sake is often compared to wine (since it is a rice wine), while soju is compared to stronger beverages like vodka and whiskey. In fact, these similarities in taste make soju a handy tool for bars, bistros, and restaurants who don’t really want to get an expensive liquor license but want to continue serving delicious cocktails in their establishments.
Is a whole bottle of soju too much?
Absolutely.but it will depend on their individual tolerance, and how quickly they consume it. Over the course of an entire evening, five drinks may not be enough to get someone drunk, especially with a meal, if they’re not a small person, and/or if they have alcohol tolerance.
How many shots of vodka is equal to soju?
Typical green bottle soju is about 20% ABV. So two shots of soju contain about as much alcohol as one shot of vodka.
What is soju equivalent to vodka?
Soju — often called ‘ Korean vodka ‘ — is as smooth and catchy as a BTS dance hit. Around 20-25% ABV (40-50 proof, or about half the alcohol of standard vodkas), this traditionally rice-based liquor is easy to drink and mildly sweet, pairing effortlessly with salty ramen, savory pork and spicy seafood stews.
Does soju burn like vodka?
The best-selling spirit in the world isn’t a type of whiskey, vodka or rum—it’s soju, a clear, distilled Korean liquor made from rice. Soju, the national drink of South Korea, is the best-selling liquor in the world by volume and sales and has only been growing in recent years.
Despite the worldwide sales numbers of soju, the spirit isn’t well known in the United States. However, what was once an underrated beverage in the West, enjoying soju only continues to increase in popularity due to the rise of Korean food. Soju was first distilled in Korea during the 1300s. Historians believe that the Mongols brought the Persian technique of distilling arak to Korea.
Soju is traditionally made from rice, but that changed during the Korean War amid shortages. Distilling rice was banned, so Koreans started making soju with alternative starches like wheat, sweet potatoes and tapioca. The ban was lifted in the late 1990s, but many of the best-selling brands in Korea still use alternative starches.
Soju is distilled like vodka and means “burned liquor,” referring to how the alcohol is distilled at a high temperature. Soju has a clean taste and is a slightly sweet neutral spirit. It is often called Korean vodka because of its neutral flavor, though most commercial soju sold today has a sweeter and less aggressive flavor than vodka.
Soju also doesn’t have the harsh alcohol burn, thanks to having around half the percentage of alcohol. At its most basic, soju has a 20-24% ABV, but the alcohol content can range anywhere from 15% to over 50%. Thanks to lax laws regarding the ingredients used to make soju, the taste and quality can also vary considerably.
Soju is usually consumed neat, often chilled and sipped straight in small glasses, but it’s also mixed into cocktails and even beer. High-proof soju will stand up better in cocktails, as the softer versions can get lost behind a drink’s other flavors. Although there are not many well-known soju-specific cocktails outside of Korea, soju is an easy substitute for vodka in most recipes, and bartenders worldwide are reimagining favorite cocktails with the spirit.
Much like vodka, soju is made today in a variety of flavors. It appeals primarily to younger drinkers and can taste like spiked fruit juice. There is a customary way to drink soju. Traditionally, soju is enjoyed as a communal drink along with food and snacks, and one never pours their own soju.
How does soju compare to vodka?
Soju – Soju is a clear spirit that originated in Korea. It was traditionally made with rice but, ever since distilling rice was banned during the Korean War, distillers have used other grains and starches, such as wheat, sweet potatoes, and even tapioca.
As a result, sojus vary in aroma and flavor. Soju is most often drunk straight with food, like wine, but is also used in cocktails, like a spirit. It has a neutral flavor, like vodka, but half the alcohol content — it typically hovers between 20 and 34 percent ABV, compared to vodka’s 40 percent ABV.
Soju is the top-selling liquor by volume in the world, but it’s not legally considered a spirit everywhere. In New York and California, for example, soju no more than 24 percent alcohol by volume can be sold under a beer and wine license, which is cheaper and easier for restaurants to acquire than a liquor license.