Already have an account?
Get back to the

Why You Should Try Soju, the World’s Most Popular Spirit

A versatile and delicious drink.

Now that dry January is officially over, you might be wondering how to break your fast. You could reach for typical tipples, like wine, beer, or a classic gin and tonic. But why not try something different? Soju, a distilled Korean spirit, is the goldilocks of alcohol — not too heavy, not too boozy — just right, in my humble opinion. And I’m not the only one who feels this way: Soju is one of the world’s best-selling spirits. Read on to learn more about this smooth sip, and why you may want to give this delicious and tradition-laden beverage a try.  

What is soju?

It’s a distilled spirit traditionally made from fermented rice, but also popularly made from sweet potatoes, says Thrillist. Food blog Saucey notes that it’s clear and light, with an average ABV of 20-24 percent, which places it firmly between wine and liquor in terms of alcoholic content. It’s wildly popular in South Korea, being the national drink, but it’s growing in popularity worldwide. In fact, Jinro Soju (one of the biggest soju brands) was named the world’s best-selling spirit brand, outselling brands like Bacardi, according to International Wine and Spirits Research.

Regardless of brand or flavor, soju is often sold in green glass bottles, identical in shape and size. At face value, that doesn’t seem odd — but think about the wide variety of bottle types you see at the store, even among the same types of liquor. There’s the iconic color gradient and long, slim shape of Ciroc vodka, or Dan Aykroyd’s skull-shaped Crystal Head vodka. The difference in shape allows for recognizability, which gives brands an edge. But it’s in the spirit of collaboration — not competition — that Korean soju brands chose their uniform bottling conventions. In 2009, soju makers voluntarily agreed to use the same types of bottles to simplify the recycling process, according to The Korea Times. While different bottles do exist, the lion’s share of popular soju is found in green glass bottles to this day. 

What does soju taste like?

It comes in many flavors, but many people compare soju’s base version to vodka, due to its clear color and neutral taste. Still, it’s a little sweeter and more viscous than vodka, and lacks that “rubbing alcohol” burn. Saucey notes that, like wine, it’s often consumed alongside food. So much so, in fact, that there’s a whole category of foods in Korea that are meant to be eaten with soju called “anju.” The drink also comes in a variety of fruit flavors, like grape, blueberry, peach, strawberry, apple, pineapple, grapefruit, plum, tangerine, and more. Because of the lack of alcoholic burn, fruit-flavored soju is extraordinarily easy to drink, aside from its sweetness — so consume it with caution. 

How To Drink Soju

Because of its mild flavor, soju is often consumed neat and cold in small glasses, but it also works well in a variety of cocktails or paired with simple mixers like fruit juices or soda. Another popular mode of consumption is to drop a shot of soju in beer, forming a drink called somaek, says Korea Travel Post. Overall, its wide variety of flavors, smooth taste, and relatively low ABV make it a highly versatile spirit — so experiment away.

Drinking Traditions

It’s best enjoyed with good food and good company — this is a communal drink, and meant to be shared. There are a few specific traditions associated with drinking this popular beverage in Korea, says food site The Takeout. Learn more about those below.

Opening the bottle. When opening the bottle, gently swirl it, or if you really want to show that you know your stuff, slap the bottom with you elbow or palm, take off the cap, and strike the neck of the bottle with space between your index and middle finger, causing some to spill out of the top. Traditionally, soju had sediment that settled at the bottom, so shaking it to the top and then spilling it out of the top is meant to get rid of it. Filtration has changed, so there isn’t often sediment, but the ritual remains the same and is fun to watch, especially if participants have a few glasses of soju under their belt already. 

Serving the soju. Never pour your own soju. Traditionally, says Saucey, an older member of your group should pour it for you using both hands, and you receive it with both hands. You may pour soju for others, if you notice that their glass is empty — just remember to use both hands. 

Drinking the soju. As with most shared beverages, it is considered impolite to drink directly from the bottle. After you’ve received your glass, turn your face, so as to not make eye contact, and down it in one go, says Saucey. Your first serving is typically taken as a shot, but it’s common to sip every serving afterward, if you prefer. 

Where can I buy soju?

While not (yet) as ubiquitous as wine and beer stateside, soju is available for purchase at many retailers, like Total Wine and maybe even your local liquor store. If you get your hands on it, enjoy — and don’t forget to say cheers (or in Korean, “Geonbae”)!

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.