I know we’ve seen it on K-dramas or probably experienced it in real life: Koreans just love to drink! They drink after a breakup, on a dinner date, at a meeting, or to celebrate. There’s always a good reason to drink in Korea!
With such a love for drinking, of course, it’s expected that there would be lots of interesting alcoholic drinks in Korea. So before you get excited about taking a shot, it would be good to know which drinks are the best.
You might be surprised that there’s more to Korean alcoholic beverages than a shot of soju. Do you like beer, wine, or spirits? Don’t worry because Korea has something interesting for you to enjoy.
The 12 Most Popular Alcoholic Drinks In South Korea
In this article, we selected for you 12 alcoholic drinks that Koreans love. This list has everything you need, from fruity wines to traditional alcoholic drinks to craft beers. So, let’s get started!
Here are the 12 most popular alcoholic drinks in South Korea that you should try:
- Korean beers
1. Soju (소주)
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without soju at the top. You can ask anyone about Korean alcoholic drinks; surely, soju would be the first in their minds.
Soju is a distilled spirit made from various starch like rice, potatoes, wheat, barley, etc. It’s Korea’s national drink and for good reasons. You’ll surely enjoy this because it has a semi-sweet taste, kind of like a sweeter version of vodka.
Plus, you can never go wrong with soju because it’s so versatile. You can drink it straight or add it to many other cocktails. Basically, if you want to drink like a Korean, start with a shot of soju.
More info about how to drink Soju here!
2. Makgeolli (막걸리)
If it’s your first time trying makgeolli, you might easily be confused about its taste. Some drinkers say it’s sweet and sour, while others say it’s bitter, tangy, and creamy. Well, to understand its flavor, it’s better to try it yourself.
Makgeolli is the oldest alcoholic drink in Korea. It’s made by fermenting rice with a starter called “nuruk.” It’s kind of like fizzy milky-colored rice wine. You can easily find it anywhere and at a cheap price.
Will Makgeolli make you drunk? Yes, it can! Don’t be fooled by the drink’s milky taste—it can still pack a punch. Makgeolli has an alcohol content varying from 6% to 18%. You may drink a lot without feeling dizzy, but the alcohol is slowly building up in your body. So, drink it in moderation if you’re not up for a drunken night.
3. Somaek (-소맥)
Want to give soju a little bit more kick? Add beer to it, and you get Korea’s popular cocktail, somaek. Sounds easy, right? Well, maybe not.
Because somaek is a popular cocktail, there are so many variations and combinations that it’s often the topic of debate during parties. Half the fun of enjoying somaek is chatting about what ratio or brand of beer and soju to use. Well, if you want to be safe, go for the popular ratio of 3 parts soju to 7 parts beer.
But wait, there’s more because mixing the somaek can also be really interesting. You can easily knock somaek with a spoon at the bottom of your glass to create a fizzle. But you can also do a soju bomb, drop a shot of soju in your beer, and drink it bottoms up.
For more creative party tricks, you can balance your shot using chopsticks above your glass. Then, hit the table to send the shot crashing down your beer. Fun, right? Enjoying somaek is tons of fun because there’s really no limit on how creative you can get.
We have a dedicated article about Somaek so make sure you read it here: Somaek and Soju Beer Bomb.
4. Maesil-ju (매실주)
If you prefer sweet fruit wines, maesil-ju would be great for you. This traditional Korean liqueur is made from unripe green maesil plums. This popular wine tastes tangy and sweet, with just a hint of bitterness. If you’re wondering how it’s made, it’s traditionally produced by steeping the plum in soju with sugar. It’ll probably take 12 weeks to achieve its light golden color and bitter-sweet flavor.
Maesil-ju is a great drink to have when you’re eating seafood. You can enjoy maesil-ju neat, served in small shot glasses, and often has an alcohol content of 14%.
5. Bokbunja (복분자)
Another popular fruit wine you might be interested in is the bokbunja. This sweet-tart wine is made from blackberries native to Korea. Well, don’t be deceived by its sweet taste, as it could still get you drunk. That’s because bokbunja has a higher alcohol content than regular red wine. A glass of bokbunja often has an alcohol content of 15% to 19%.
If you’re on a date, well, you must know that bokbunja has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac. It’s been known to increase testosterone in men and enhance sexual stamina. Adding to its heat, bokbunja is also often paired with spicy foods.
6. Korean Beer (맥주)
Well, if wines and spirits aren’t your thing, you can always give Korean beers a try. I know you might be thinking, “what’s so special with Korean beers?”
Well, for one, Korean beers are considered very light compared to darker beers and lagers. It also has a distinct taste profile quite different from other western beers. Well, you should really give in to your curiosity and try so you can compare.
You can easily drop by a convenience store, and you’ll see many options to choose from. The popular brands include Hite, Cass, Max, Kloud, and OB. But if you’re looking for more premium options, you can also try craft beers like Jeju Wit Ale, Gwanghwamun Beer, and many others.
For more brands, we listed here the 10 best Korean beers here!
While the alcohol content of beers is fairly low at 4% to 5%, we all know that we don’t usually stop at one bottle. So, it’s still best to drink in moderation if you don’t want to have a bad hangover.
7. Sansachun (산사춘)
Sansachun is definitely one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in South Korea!
If you just want a chill night with a light drink, sansachun is perfect. This Korean rice wine is made from the red fruits of the hawthorn. You can easily enjoy its sweet taste and fruity aroma.
It’s really a smooth, good pre-dinner drink when you’re just planning to chat with friends. Even better, it’s been used for over 400 years to help lower your stress levels and anxiety. Just perfect when you don’t want to wake up with a hangover but still enjoy the night.
Read More: What The Legal Drinking Age In Korea?
8. Dongdongju (동동주)
Could you imagine taking a shot of an alcoholic drink served in bowls? Dongdongju is just that! This enjoyable Korean alcoholic drink is much like the “cousin” of makgeolli, fermented rice wine. Except that makgeolli is filtered while dongdongju isn’t, so you get to scoop out rice kernels from your drink.
It’s milky, sweet, tart, and enjoyed chilled. It’s one of those drinks and foods described as “acquired taste,” like makgeolli or kimchi. Not everyone would enjoy it, but many would.
Dongdongju has a low alcoholic content of 6% to 8%, so don’t worry too much about getting drunk unless you really consume a lot. It’s great when paired with pajeon, or savory pancakes often served as appetizers.
9. Gukhwaju (국화주)
Would you believe there’s an alcoholic drink made out of flowers? Yes, in Korea, there is! Gukhawa is a wine made out of infused dried chrysanthemum petals. It’s kind of like drinking sweet chrysanthemum tea, but with the added alcohol.
Even better, gukhwa can bring good luck and positive energy (yang) to your life. Drinking gukhawa during the Double Ninth Festival or Jungyangjeol could bring fortune because chrysanthemums are believed to have cleansing properties. So, grab a bottle and experience some flower power!
10. Baekseju (백세주)
Looking for an alcoholic drink that’s good for your health? Your halmi or grandma could easily get you a shot of baekseju. Not only does this drink calm your mind, but it can even cure body aches and other ailments. Plus, legends say baekseju can extend your life by a hundred years!
That’s because baekseju is made of glutinous rice and herbs, including ginger, cinnamon, ginseng, and other medicinal herbs. It may seem a bit a weird to drink an alcoholic beverage with a distinct herbal flavor, but hey, if it’s good for you, why not give it a try? But don’t mistake it for your typical herbal drink because it still has an alcohol content of 13%, enough to knock you out.
11. Cheongju (청주)
If you have already tried soju and didn’t understand the craze about it, you might just enjoy cheongju. This one looks like soju because it’s clear and also comes in a green bottle. But its taste is quite different. Many drinkers who found soju too bitter and intense enjoyed the very mild and sweet taste of cheongju. Many drinkers say it kind of tastes like Japanese sake.
This clear liquor is a Korean rice wine that has undergone a fermentation process to produce a sweet alcoholic beverage. The Korean regions of Nonsan, Gunsan, and Masan are popular for creating their own versions of cheonju. So, try as many kinds of cheongju as you can to decide which one you like best!
12. Dosoju (도소주)
Dosoju is popular as the original New Year’s drink, but you can enjoy it any time of the year. If you’re mending a broken heart or feeling sad, dosoju could help raise your spirits!
Yes, it’s no joke because legends say dosoju can help ward off evil spirits and make you a happier person. Its name literally means “kill or catch” evil spirits. So, the next time you’re looking for a good drink to pick you up, trust this herbal liquor to do the trick.
And there you go, now you know the most popular alcoholic drinks in South Korea! I hope you find this list useful as you plan a fun night with your friends or family over a few drinks.
Isn’t it fun to try something new? The good news is Korea has so many diverse and interesting Korean alcoholic drinks you can choose from. There are so many choices to try that picking a drink is already exciting in itself. On top of it all, many of these drinks don’t just make you tipsy but also have health benefits and intriguing stories to tell.
The next time you plan a night of fun drinking in Korea, be adventurous and try as many kinds of drinks as you can. But don’t drink too much! If you do, well, there are many cures for a hangover, but that’s another topic to discuss. So for now, here’s us cheering geobae to having a fun night in Korea!