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Korean Alcoholic Drinks

As many of my readers know, I’ve been living in Korea since 2000. Korea is a great place to live and to raise my lovely son. The culture and the food along with the people are all intertwined to make it an unforgettable place to visit or live. I’ve written about Korean snacks and exotic food here but in this blog post, I will explore some of the most popular and unique Korean alcoholic drinks. 

Korea’s vibrant drinking culture offers a captivating array of alcoholic beverages. From the ubiquitous green bottle of soju to the traditional rice wines and unique flower wines, each drink offers a taste of the rich and diverse Korean culture.

Popular Korean Alcoholic Drinks

Korean Soju empty bottle s on the table

1. Soju

Soju is undoubtedly the most popular alcoholic drink in Korea. So much so that Jinro Soju even holds the title of the world’s best-selling liquor. 

What is Soju?

Soju, often called ‘Korean vodka’ or Japanese shochu, is a clear spirit usually distilled from grains such as wheat, glutinous rice, barley, or sweet potatoes. Its taste is slightly sweet due to the sugar added during the distillation process. It’s kind of a watered-down vodka/rum in my view but it’s the most popular liquor on the peninsula for a reason.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

Soju typically has an alcohol content ranging from 15% to 50%. Its relatively high alcohol percentage means that soju is much stronger than beer or wine. Despite its potency, soju is often enjoyed in small glasses, slightly larger than a shot glass. This allows drinkers to enjoy the sharp taste of soju without becoming overly intoxicated.

Soju in Korean Culture

Soju holds a special place in Korean drinking culture. It is often paired with a range of Korean dishes, making it a staple for a well-rounded meal. Furthermore, soju is not just consumed neat. It is also often used in cocktails, such as somaek, a popular Korean drink that combines soju and beer. The younger generation mixes it with a little Red Bull or other Korean energy drink. 

korean makeoli in a bowl

2. Makgeolli

Makgeolli, also known as raw or original rice wine, is a staple in Korean drinking culture. It is Korea’s oldest alcohol, much older than the other drinks listed here.

What is Makgeolli?

Makgeolli is a thick, sweet rice wine. Unlike many other alcoholic beverages, makgeolli doesn’t go through distillation, resulting in a relatively low alcohol by volume (ABV) similar to that of strong beer (around 8%).

Taste and Consumption

Makgeolli is sweet and tangy, with a touch of carbonation to balance the drink. The drink is often enjoyed in its pure form, but in recent years, it has also been mixed with fruit cocktails to enhance its sweetness. It’s very filling so I usually max out at one bottle. It’s my favorite drink here as it’s cheap and great on rainy days. 

Makgeolli in Korean Culture

Makgeolli holds a special place in Korean drinking culture. Its earthy and chalky flavors, paired with its cloudy appearance, make it one of the most loved Korean alcoholic drinks among both locals and visitors.

bokbunja korean

3. Bokbunja-ju: The Sweet Drink

Also called an aphrodisiac wine, Bokbunja-ju, often called bokbunja wine, is one of the popular Korean alcoholic drinks made from Korean black raspberries.

What is Bokbunja-ju?

Bokbunja-ju is a delightful liquor distilled from Korean black raspberries. Unlike typical wines made from grapes, bokbunja-ju offers a unique flavor profile due to the berries used in its production.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

Bokbunja-ju is stronger than typical American wines, with an alcohol content of around 11-19%. Its moderate acidity allows it to pair well with many types of seafood.

Bokbunja-ju in Korean Culture

Interestingly, bokbunja-ju is also cherished as an aphrodisiac in Korean culture. Its purported ability to increase testosterone levels in men makes it a popular choice among many.

Korean Plum Wine in a glass

4. Maeshilju: Unique Taste

For those with a sweet tooth, maeshilju is a perfect choice. This delectable Korean alcoholic beverage offers a delightful sweetness that makes it a favorite dessert wine.

What is Maeshilju?

Maeshilju is a type of plum wine or plum liqueur. Its sweet taste comes from an infusion of yellow or green plums. The spirit is produced by starting with soju, a distilled spirit, and soaking plums in the liquor. After aging, sugar is added, and the fruit wine is left to age further.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

Maeshilju typically has an alcohol content of around 14%, allowing drinkers to enjoy a few glasses without feeling too intoxicated. However, due to its sweetness, it is often consumed as a dessert wine rather than during a meal.

Kloud Korean Beer in a glass

5. Beer

While beer became familiar in Korea somewhat later than in America, it has now become a staple of Korean drinking culture.

What is Korean Beer?

Korean beer typically has a light body and a simple flavor profile. Some of the most popular Korean beer brands include Hite Jinro and Oriental Brewery.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

Korean beers generally have an alcohol content of around 4.5% to 5%, making them a popular choice for casual drinking. They are often consumed straight from the bottle or can, or poured into glasses to be enjoyed slowly.

Beer in Korean Culture

This popular drink has led to the establishment of breweries for over 100 years. The recent changes in regulations by the Korean government have further allowed the craft beer industry to flourish, promising a future influx of high-quality Korean beers.

Korean alcoholic drinks
Image by Freepik

6. Gukhwaju: Different Flavors

Gukhwaju, also known as flower wine, holds a special place in Korean drinking culture. This traditional rice wine is flavored with dry chrysanthemum flowers, adding a unique herbal flavor to the drink.

What is Gukhwaju?

Gukhwaju is a traditional rice wine with a twist. Dry chrysanthemum flowers are crushed and added to the rice wine as it ferments. This addition gives the wine a slight tint and a unique herbal flavor.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

Like other rice wines, gukhwaju has a relatively low alcohol content. This makes it a popular choice for those who enjoy a lighter drink.

Gukhwaju in Korean Culture

In Korean culture, gukhwaju is often enjoyed during special occasions or as a dessert wine. Its unique floral flavor and aroma make it a popular choice among those seeking a unique drinking experience.

7. Baekseju

Baekseju, often thought of as herbal rice alcohol, is known for its unique blend of earthy and chalky flavors and its array of additives.

What is Baekseju?

Baekseju is a type of rice alcohol that is known for its additives. Depending on the producer, it typically contains up to 12 different spices and herbs, including ginseng, licorice, ginger, and cinnamon.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

Baekseju’s alcohol content varies depending on the brand and recipe, but it generally ranges between 12% and 20%. Its unique flavor profile makes it a popular choice for those seeking a different kind of alcoholic experience. You can try this one with any of the foods described in my exotic Korean food post.

Baekseju in Korean Culture

In Korean culture, baekseju is often consumed during special occasions or as part of a traditional Korean meal. Its unique blend of flavors and herbs make it a popular choice among those seeking a unique drinking experience.

8. Dansul

Dansul is a type of Korean rice wine that is known for its unique brewing process and sweet and cloudy appearance.

What is Dansul?

Dansul is a form of Korean rice wine, but it differs from makgeolli or baekseju. Dansul features the use of “nuruk” – a traditional Korean fermentation starter used since the period of the Three Kingdoms nearly 2,000 years ago. The rice undergoes incomplete fermentation, leaving dansul with a low alcohol content and a sweeter and cloudier appearance than other rice wines.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

Dansul typically has an ABV of only 2-3%. This low alcohol content makes it a popular choice for those who prefer a lighter, sweeter drink.

Dansul in Korean Culture

In Korean culture, dansul is often enjoyed during special occasions or as a dessert wine. Its sweet taste and unique cloudy appearance make it a popular choice among those seeking a unique drinking experience.

9. Moju

Moju is a unique Korean beverage known for its thick consistency and blend of flavors.

What is Moju?

Moju is a thick Korean beverage prepared from fermented rice infused with a mix of herbs and spices, including cinnamon, ginger, jujube, ginseng, and licorice root.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

The alcohol content of moju varies depending on the brand and recipe, but it generally ranges between 14% and 20%. Its unique flavor profile and thick consistency make it a popular choice for those seeking a different kind of alcoholic experience.

Moju in Korean Culture

In Korean culture, moju is often consumed during special occasions or as part of a traditional Korean meal. Its unique blend of flavors and herbs make it a popular choice among those seeking a unique drinking experience.

Korean Somaek
Image by Freepik

10. Somaek

Somaek, a popular Korean drink that combines soju and beer, offers a straightforward and enjoyable drinking experience. It’s a Korean boilermaker and if you’re not ready for it, you’ll regret it the next morning! 

What is Somaek?

Somaek is a combination of soju and beer, typically incorporating a lager-style beer. The name “somaek” is a combination of the words soju and maekju, the Korean word for beer.

Alcohol Content and Consumption

The alcohol content of somaek varies depending on the ratio of soju to beer, but it generally ranges between 4% and 20%. Its unique flavor profile and combination of two popular drinks make it a popular choice for those seeking a unique drinking experience.

Somaek in Korean Culture

In Korean culture, somaek is often consumed during social gatherings or nights out. Its unique blend of soju and beer make it a popular choice among those seeking a unique drinking experience. It’s great while have Korean BBQ with pork belly or and other Korean cuisine.

Where to Buy Korean Alcoholic Drinks

Within Korea++Korean alcoholic beverages can be purchased in various places, from local bars and restaurants to grocery stores and convenience stores. The availability of different types of Korean alcohol may vary depending on the location, but popular drinks like soju, makgeolli, and beer are generally widely available.

Outside Korea++ In big cities like New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Sao Paolo where there are Korean towns, these drinks should be easily purchased. 

Last Shot!

The world of Korean alcoholic drinks is as diverse and vibrant as the culture and all its yummy food itself. Whether you’re into soju, makgeolli, beer, or unique wines, there’s a Korean drink for every taste. So, the next time you’re in Korea, don’t forget to get some of these and toast to the good life!

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