Korean Drinking Culture: Drinks

Posted on June 21, 2012


Before coming to Korea, I rarely drank, compared to that past, I now feel like I live a slightly alcoholic lifestyle! But drinking isn’t looked down on in Korea, and because it’s ingrained in Korean culture, it’s hard to avoid. I can understand if people don’t drink whilst they’re in Korea (or in general) as I’ve got 3 friends over here who hardly touch the stuff, but sometimes it feels like drinking in Korea is more about experiencing the social culture that comes with it, than the drinking. So if you don’t drink, you should try to tag along to a drinking session at least once, to experience this side of Korea!

Korean drinking culture is such a BIG thing, that it’s hard to write succinctly about it in 1 post, so I will break this topic up into two or more posts- with this first one being dedicated to introducing you to the different types of alcoholic drinks unique to Korea!

Soju 소주

THE most famous drink for S.Korea! If you’re reading this post because you’re interested in Korea, then that interest is probably due to you wanting to teach in Korea, loving KPop music or KDramas; well for the latter, you must recognise Soju as the drink heavily featured in your fave KDrama, when the protagonist reaches a hard point in their life (in the drama), sit outside, drinking shots from this mysterious bottle, then ending up getting piggybacked home all drunk and stuff by their love interest. Also, Soju almost ALWAYS seems to be advertised by a beautiful Korean actress or singer- as if it’s such a lady like drink!

Firstly, getting piggybacked home could happen but I’ve rarely seen people being carried back home sooo eligently in Korea (usually they’re dragged home whilst slurring or swearing) and secondly,  drinking 1 shot of Soju, let alone a whole bottle, is tough! Soju’s taste (I hear) can be compared to Vodka which makes you really go AISHHH after you drink it (unlike KDramas who make it look so easy) and it tends to have an alcohol content of between 16-45%! Also, interesting fact, I recently discovered that each province on Korea have their own brand of Soju!

Soju cocktails are Nom nom nom!

Soju, in my experience, can be drunk neat (ie a shot) or in (my preferred style) a soju cocktail form; so the soju will come in a jug, mixed with a choice of fruit flavours such as Strawberry, Kiwi etc. Also, you can drop a shot class into a glass of beer to make a “Soulmate.”

Soju is available EVERYWHERE in Korea, and it’s a cheap drink too, at around about 1,000 Won (barely £1) a bottle! If we had this stuff in the UK, our country would probably DIE of alcoholism because we’re not trained to drink as ‘sensibly’ as the Koreans!

Makgeolli 막걸리

Makgeolli is a drink that makes you feel as if you’re dipping into a bit of very traditional, old, Korean culture because it comes served in an earthenware bowl, and spoon, which you then spoon into little earthenware cups to drink. Makgeolli is made of rice and wheat, and some Koreans actually make this at home, because it’s that easy!

The taste of plain Makgeolli is very hard to describe, in the worst case, it sometimes taste like cheese, whilst in other (better cases) it will taste slightly sweet and grainy. The alcohol content is only between 6-8%, but don’t be fooled, as I have gotten drunk off the stuff at least once!

Makgeolli, as with Soju, can come in cocktail form, which is how I prefer to drink it, but in general Makgeolli isn’t my drink of choice in Korea (Soju cocktails definitely are!)

The best thing about Makgeolli is going to a Makgeolli 집 (house) where you can have lots of side dishes with the drink, such as pig’s feet, pankcakes, fish, kimchi etc. So whilst you get tipsy, you also get a great meal out of it.

Beer 맥주

Now, I might be bias in saying so, but I don’t think Beer is made for women to drink because it leaves you feeling so bloated and rather gassy LOL However, if I had to drink beer, then I now know which I’d choose, Korean beer and more specifically a Cass. Famous Korean beer brands include Cass, Hite and OB, though the 2 former ones are those I usually see more often on the menu. Maybe I’ve been influenced by my guy friends, but Cass seems to be the easier and more palatable one to drink.

Drinking beer in Korea, is unique for 2 reasons; firstly because you can mix it with Soju to make the aforementioned Soulmate and secondly, you can buy beer at different sizes at a bar- most notably the GIANT 3000CC size, which is more than enough for 8 people to drink together!

Other than that, there’s nothing more I can say about Korean 맥주!

Now you know about the 3 main drinks in Korea- next time you look at that bar menu, you’ll know at least 3 more different types of Korean drinks that differ from the usual JD & Coke you might immediately reach for, so try them!