Infobox Korean name

caption=Bottle of Chamisul soju with branded glass

"Soju" is a distilled beverage native to Korea. Most brands of modern soju are made in South Korea. Though traditionally made from rice, most major brands supplement or even replace the rice with other starches such as potato, wheat, barley, sweet potato, or tapioca (called "dangmil" in Korean). "Soju" is clear in color and typically varies in alcohol content from about 20% to about 45% alcohol by volume (ABV), with 20% ABV being most common. Its taste is comparable to vodka, though often slightly sweeter due to the added sugar in the manufacturing process.

"Soju" in Korea


"Soju" was first distilled around A.D. 1300 during the Mongol war with Korea. The Mongols had acquired the technique of distilling "arak" from the Persianscite web|title = Moving Beyond the Green Blur: a History of Soju|url=|accessdate = 2008-01-19] during their invasion of Central Asia/Middle East around 1256, then it was subsequently introduced to Koreans and distilleries were set up around the city of Kaesong (hangul: 개성). Indeed, in the area surrounding Kaesong, "soju" is known as "arak-ju" (hangul: 아락주). [cite web|url= |title=History of Soju |language=Korean |publisher=Doosan Encyclopeida |]

From 1965 until 1991, in order to alleviate rice shortages, the Korean government prohibited the traditional direct distillation of "soju" from fermented grain. Instead, highly distilled ethanol from any source was mixed with water and flavorings to create "diluted soju". Although the prohibition has now been lifted, cheap "soju" continues to be made this way. The Korean government regulates the alcohol content of diluted soju to less than 35%. Several regions have resumed manufacturing "soju" from the traditional distillation of grain, resulting in "distilled soju". The "soju" from Andong is the most famous of all, with an ABV around 45%.


Jinro is the largest manufacturer of "soju" [] (72 million cases sold in 2007 [] ). The most popular variety of "soju" is currently Chamisul (참 이슬 - literally meaning "real dew")Fact|date=August 2008, a quadruple-filtered "soju" produced by Jinro, but recently Cheoum Cheoreom (처음처럼 - literally meaning "like the first time") of Doosan (두산) is raising its market share. However, the most popular brands vary by region. In Busan, Siwon Soju (시원 소주) is the local and most popular brand.Fact|date=August 2008 In Gyeongsangnam-do and Ulsan, the most popular is White soju (hangul: 화이트소주), produced by Muhak in Masan.Fact|date=August 2008 However, as soon as one crosses the border from Ulsan north to Gyeongju in Gyeongsangbuk-do, it is almost impossible to buy White Soju and instead the most popular is Chamisul.Fact|date=August 2008


Soju is usually drunk in group gatherings while eating, unmixed and portioned into individual shot glasses. It is against traditional custom in Korea to fill one's own glass. Instead, it must be filled by someone else at the table. This promotes a spirit of thoughtfulness and camaraderie.

In Korean culture, using two hands to offer and accept items is considered an act of respect. Accordingly, if one's glass is going to be filled by a superior, one should hold the glass with both hands. Similarly, when pouring soju for an elder, one holds the bottle with both hands.

To pour a drink, hold the bottle in the right hand with the left hand touching the right forearm or elbow; this peculiar arm position originated from the practice of holding back the sleeve of the hanbok so that it wouldn't touch the table or the food.

Similarly, when receiving a drink, rest the glass in the left palm and hold it with the right hand, perhaps bowing the head slightly to show additional respect. You can also hold the class using the same hand positions as when poring. Poring and receiving with just the right hand by a senior, or between equals, is common in normal situations.

Koreans often say " [ one shot] ", a challenge to everyone in the group to down their glass in one gulp.

A glass should not be refilled unless completely empty and should be promptly refilled once empty; it is considered rude to not fill others' glass when empty

Some special rules apply when drinking with someone of much higher status, i.e. greater age or rank. When drinking in front of elders (people older than you), the junior is expected to turn away from the elder first. Drinking the shot while directly facing the elder is considered disrespectful. On occasions, an elder gives an empty soju shotglass (usually his/hers) to an equal or junior. A junior may also offer an empty glass to a senior after they have established a closer relationship.

Giving the glass implies that the person is going to fill it and wants the receiver to drink it. It is not obligatory to finish the drink immediately, but it is impolite to place the glass on the table without at least pretending to drink from it.

After finishing the entire glass, it should be returned and refilled. It is not necessary to return it immediately, but holding it for a long time is considered rude, as it deprives the giver of his glass.

Among friends of equal social status, it is not necessary to use both hands while pouring or receiving a drink, but may be done out of habit or politeness, or if the situation is considered a particularly formal one. []


Although beer, whisky, and wine have been gaining popularity in recent years, "soju" remains one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Korea because of its ready availability and relatively low price. More than 3 billion bottles were consumed in South Korea in 2004. [3.05 billion bottles were reported sold in 2004, up from previous years. cite web |url=|title=Cigarette Sales Surge to Historic High|work=Chosun Ilbo|accessmonthday=June 29 |accessyear=2005] In 2006, it was estimated that the average adult Korean (older than 20) had consumed 90 bottles of "soju" during that year, with each bottle equivalent to seven shots.cite web|title=Let's Have a Soju Tonight |url= |publisher=KBS World |accessdate=2008-01-01]

Despite tradition, "soju" is not always consumed in unmixed form. A "poktanju" (lit: "bomb drink,") consists of a shot glass of "soju" dropped into a pint of draft beer (like a boilermaker) and is drunk quickly. The reverse equivalent, a shot glass of draft beer dropped into a pint of "soju", is called "suso poktanju" (lit: "hydrogen bomb drink").

"Cocktail soju" is soju with fruit juice or soft drink and optionally kool-aid or bingsu syrup. Common flavors include lemon, apple, peach, yogurt, plum and grape. Several bars, particularly those catering to younger people and foreigners, serve cocktail soju in "soju kettles" similar to the "buckets" commonly available in Thailand, where the upper section of an empty 2 liter plastic bottle is cut off and the remaining cylindrical "kettle" is filled with cocktail soju, with one or more drinking straws.

"Soju" in the United States

The liquor licensing laws in the states of California and New York classify "soju" in the same category as beer and wine, allowing businesses with a beer/wine license to sell it without requiring the more expensive license required for other distilled spirits. The only stipulation is that the "soju" must be clearly labelled as such and contain less than 25% alcohol. [ [ Soju Goes Where Vodka Cannot Tread] ]

This has led to the appearance in the United States of many "soju"-based equivalents of traditional Western mixed drinks normally based on vodka or similar spirits, such as the "soju" martini and the "soju" cosmopolitan. Another consequence is that the manufacturers of similar distilled spirits from other parts of Asia, such as Japanese shochu, have begun to relabel their products as "soju" for sale in those regions. [ [ What is Sochu?] ]

Entry in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Soju was entered into the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2008 [] and will be included in the printed edition September 1, 2008. [] Soju is now one of only a handful of Korean words that have entered the English lexicon (others being "kimchi", "taekwondo", and "hangul" [] ). Merriam-Webster dates the word's appearance in the American English lexicon at 1978.

ee also

"Soju" is sometimes mistakenly referred to as "cheongju" (청주), a Korean rice wine similar to "sake". Mass produced "soju" is similar to Chinese "baijiu", a grain liquor, and "Shōchū", a Japanese beverage.

*Korean wines
*Rice wine
*Korean cuisine
*Korean beer


External links

* [ Andong Soju]
* [ Doosan Soju]
* [ Jinro Soju's English-language web page]
* [ Marketplace Report – soju sidesteps US liquor laws]

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