Soju is the bestselling liquor in the world and it is considered Korea’s national drink. Soju is a lightweight and clear alcohol that is reminiscent of vodka yet only contains less than half the alcohol content.
In Korea, drinking is a huge part of their culture. Drinking soju in particular is considered the norm in most social settings. Many people may think that having water or a Coke to accompany their meal is normal; in Korea, ordering food is synonymous with ordering soju.
Despite what your ideas are about alcohol and the craziness that ensues, drinking soju is not quite like that.
Soju is considered a communal drink, almost like a bonding experience. It’s what co-workers drink when they’re unwinding after work, what friends drink when catching up over the weekend; it’s even the icebreaker for people meeting their partner’s family for the first time!
Many people drink alcohol to get sloshed. Soju is different in that it’s a drink to ease you up. It’s also got a relatively mild and inoffensive taste so it pairs well with many Korean dishes; some might even say it elevates the food!
Soju is not just a popular alcoholic drink in Korea, it’s a drink that’s ingrained in the culture of Korea. If you’re a first-timer to soju, you’d be surprised to learn that there are a deep set of rules and etiquette to follow when drinking it.
Following these rules is showing a clear sign of respect, especially when you’re drinking with older or more senior people.
If you’re curious about what they are, we’re breaking down the rules below so you can familiarise yourself.
Soju Etiquette – All The Rules You Should Follow
1. The most senior person starts the drinking
As a rule, the person with the highest rank is usually the first person to pour a shot. This is connected to the rooted tradition of filial piety in Asian culture, including South Korea.
Elders are held in high regard, and this is reflected in the soju drinking experience.
2. Receive the shot with both hands
As a rule, you must always receive soju whilst holding the glass with two hands and your glass raised. This is especially important if the person pouring for you is senior to you. A general stance is to have your left palm holding the glass with your right hand supporting it.
Most juniors will also slightly bow as they receive the shot as a sign of respect.
Again, your senior will start the drinking by pouring their juniors a shot and not the other way around.
3. Turn away for your first shot
After you receive your first shot, make sure you turn away from the table, ideally to your side, and take the shot as a whole with both hands.
Drinking with two hands is a sign of respect, as is turning away so that you’re avoiding showing your teeth. Taking your shot right in front of them can be interpreted as turning your nose up at them.
4. Pour with both hands
When you’re finished, pour your senior a drink with, you guessed it, both hands. You can also ask around if anyone would like their glass filled.
When pouring, you typically hold the bottle with one hand whilst using your other arm to support it around the elbow or wrist.
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5. Never pour your own drink
Traditionally, you do not pour your own drink so it’s best to wait for someone to offer to pour you a drink.
Soju is almost like a game of taking turns: once you receive a drink, you must then offer to pour one, and vice versa.
If you see an empty glass on the table, you must immediately offer to fill it. You would usually start with the oldest person first and then make your way down the line.
6. Drink together
Taking your shot alone is not disrespectful nor is it frowned upon, however, taking shots together with other people helps build that sense of companionship that’s often linked with soju.
Soju Tip: If want to avoid a heavy night of drinking, simply keep your soju glass half full and no one will offer to refill your drink!
What To Mix With Soju – The Most Popular Cocktails
1. Somaek (Soju and beer)
Somaek is easily the most popular soju cocktail. Somaek is the name given to a concoction of soju mixed with beer.
This may seem highly unusual, as it’s an unwritten rule that most places advise you never to mix alcohol. However, somaek is so popular in Korea that there is an entire drinking culture dedicated to it!
There is no clear ratio on how to pour somaek but most enthusiasts would agree that the golden ratio would be 3/7, i.e., 3 parts soju to 7 parts beer.
Somaek is not a sweet drink, and so it pairs perfectly with many Korean foods, in particular, Korean snacks such as dried squid and seasoned nuts as well as fried chicken, spicy rice cakes, and BBQ.
Want to learn more about somaek and the drinking culture behind it? Read our detailed article about somaek and soju beer bomb here.
2. Yoghurt Soju
Yoghurt soju is another popular soju cocktail that’s easy to prepare and even easier to consume.
It may sound unusual at first, but its easy and affordable ingredients list, not to mention great taste, makes it a popular choice for those after a fun cocktail.
All you need is some soju (you can get yogurt-flavored soju but you can also use a different flavor too!), some yogurt (Yakult or similar), and some lemon soda such as Sprite.
To make the cocktail, fill a shaker with ice, soju, and yogurt. Give it a thorough shake, pour it into a glass, add the soda, and enjoy!
3. Pineapple Soju
For a fresh and fruity concoction, this pineapple soju is a perfect choice. This is simply made up of pineapple juice (fresh is best, but you can also use chilled), and soju.
Pour each drink to a ratio that you prefer, add a couple of ice cubes, and garnish with a fresh piece of pineapple!
For an extra pineapple hit, you can purchase pineapple-flavored soju. You can also mix it up with other fruit-flavored soju.
4. Cojinganmek (Cola, soju and beer)
Cojinganmaek is like an upgraded version of somaek with the addition of cola.
Cojiinganmak contains shots of soju and coke within a glass of beer. You initially taste the beer and soju, but the drink ends with a lingering taste of cola.
It is considered a dangerous drink because the cola hides just how potent the drink is. Chances are, you’ll be five drinks in and slurring your words because you even know what hit you!
The general ratio for cojinganmak is 1 part cola, 1 part soju, and 8 parts beer.
5. Ujjujju Melony (Melona, soju, and sprite)
This fun and flirty cocktail is a favorite in Korea, especially in summer.
Melona is a honeydew melon-flavored ice cream bar in Korea. Despite its name, it also comes in other flavors such as strawberry, banana, and mango; however, honeydew melon is its classic and most popular flavor.
To make this cocktail, simply pop a Melon bar into a cup, pour in a shot of soju, and half a cup of sprite. Ta-da! The end product is a sweet, creamy, icy cocktail.
6. Subak Soju (Watermelon soju)
Subak soju is yet another summer favorite. The key to keeping this cocktail authentic is to keep the shell of the watermelon intact so that you can pour the cocktail back into it and sip from the actual watermelon!
To make subak soju, simply blend the flesh of 1 watermelon, 1 bottle of soju, and a cup of ice. Pour the mixture back into the watermelon shell and you’re done!
This is a popular choice for parties for its refreshing taste and eye-catching aesthetics.
Soju Drinking Games
Korean soju drinking games are on another level, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in them, you would know what we’re talking about!
There is a myriad of fun and exciting games to play whilst drinking soju, including simple games such as flicking a bottle cap to games that quite literally require you to ‘sense’ what other people are going to do. Sounds like a lot of fun, especially when you’re drunk.
If you’re interested in learning more about drinking games, we have an entire article dedicated to 10 cool and exciting Korean drinking games you can try at your next gathering.
What To Eat With Soju?
We mentioned earlier that the clear and crisp taste of soju makes it a popular pairing with many Korean foods. However, certain foods simply hit the spot better than others.
If you’re looking for a match made in heaven for your next soju party, check out our complete article about soju food pairing.
Don’t worry, your favorites Korean Fried Chicken made the list!
What Are The Best Soju flavors?
Soju was already a popular choice when its bestseller was the original flavor and it was backed by only a few other distinguished fruit flavors.
However, these days, there is an abundance of flavors that you can pick and choose from, so much so that it might seem overwhelming!
We’ve dedicated an article to listing the 10 best soju flavors out there. Hopefully it helps you decide which flavor to try next!
As you can see, soju is much more than just an alcoholic drink to be consumed at the next party. The cultural implications of accepting a soju drink are deeper than anyone realizes!
We hope this guide to drinking soju has helped you understand the drinking culture surrounding it a bit more. From acceptable etiquette to drinking games to food pairings and even soju cocktails, the culture is deeply ingrained in Korean society but it’s also fun and a great way to connect with other people.
Last thing, if you want to drink alcohol in Korea, make sure you are over the Korean’s legal drinking age. And if you want to test other kind of drinks, feel free to check out are list of the most popular alcoholic drinks in South Korea!