"소주" redirects here. It is not to be confused with 燒酒.

Bottle of Chamisul soju with a branded glass.
Korean name
Revised Romanization Soju
McCune–Reischauer Sochu

Soju (Korean pronunciation: [sʰodʑu]; Hangul: 소주; Hanja: 燒酒) is a distilled beverage containing ethanol and water. It is usually consumed neat.

Considered "Korea's most popular alcoholic beverage" in 2014 Jinro soju was the largest selling alcohol brand in the world with sales of 71 million cases worldwide.[1] Most brands of soju are made in South Korea. While it is traditionally made from rice, wheat, or barley, modern producers often replace rice with other starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.[1]

Soju is clear and colorless. Its alcohol content varies from about 18% to 45% alcohol by volume (ABV) for traditional Andong soju,[2] with 20% ABV being most common. However, by using freeze distillation, ABV can be increased to the desired percentage.

There are two different ways to produce soju: The traditional way of distilling soju uses the single distillation method to increase the ABV of the drink that is the product of fermentation of various grains. On the other hand, all of the modern soju brands produce the beverage through the dilution of industrial grade ethanol (95% ABV). Bottlers purchase the ethanol in bulk, dilutes via addition of water up to 80% of the total volume, in addition to small amounts of sweetners in order to give flavor.[3] The end products are marketed under a variety of soju brand names. Only a single supplier (대한주정판매) monopolizes the sale of industrial grade ethanol, which is in turn produced by a number of ethanol plants, to all of the soju brand companies that exist in Korea. Therefore, the only difference among the major soju brands is the sweetners that are used. Until the late 1980s, saccharin was the most popular sweetner used by the industry, but it has since been replaced by stevioside.[4]

Distilled soju usually has a higher ABV of 30–35% than diluted soju with ABV of 21–30%,[5] and therefore a stronger smell. Its popularity is in part due to its relatively low price in Korea: A typical 375 mL bottle of soju retails for 1,000 to 3,000 won ($0.88 to $2.65 USD). Soju is exported to 80 countries and is in the top market share of diluted alcohol market. Statistically, soju ranked number one in world sale records of the diluted alcohol market in 2002.[6]


Soju (소주) literally means "burned alcoholic drink," referring to the heat of distillation. In 2008, the word "soju" was included in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.[7][8] Merriam-Webster dated the word's appearance in the American English lexicon at 1978.[7]


Soju's origin is arak, a Levantine distilled alcoholic spirit. Mongolian forces that invaded Koryo in the 1300s conveyed the recipe of arak, and it developed into soju in Koryo. Soju was first created in Andong, where Mongolian troops were stationed. This is the root of Andong soju.[9]


Koreans have very strict rules of etiquette in drinking soju. When receiving a glass from an elder, one must hold the glass with two hands (left palm at the bottom and hold the glass with the right hand) and bow the head slightly. When it is time to drink, the drinker must turn away from the elder, and cover the mouth and glass with their hands. The first drink must be finished in one shot. When the glass is empty, the drinker hands it back to the person who poured the drink for them and the drinker then pours them a shot. This starts a series of glass and bottle passes around the table.[10][11]

Soju by country


Cookeries (Soju gori, 소줏고리) in the center, and different shaped hangari, 항아리) for making traditional soju

Soju was first distilled around the 13th century, during the Mongol invasions of Korea. The Mongols had acquired the technique of distilling Arak from the Persians[12] during their invasion of Central Asia and the Middle East around 1256. It was subsequently introduced to the Koreans, and distilleries were set up around the city of Kaesong. In the surrounding areas of Kaesong, soju is known as arak-ju (hangul: 아락주).[13]

South Korea

From 1965 until 1999, in order to alleviate rice shortages, the South Korean government prohibited the traditional distillation of soju from rice.[14] Instead, soju was created using highly distilled ethanol from sweet potatoes and tapioca, which was mixed with flavorings, and sweeteners, and water.[12] Although the prohibition has been lifted, cheap soju continues to be made this way. The South Korean government regulates the alcohol content of diluted soju to less than 35%, but alcohol levels have continued to fall in order to reduce production costs.[15] The lower alcohol concentration also makes the drink milder to consume, which may broaden its appeal.

Several regions have resumed distilling soju from grain. Soju from Andong, South Korea is a traditional hand-crafted soju that has about 45% ABV. Hwayo (화요) is another brand with five different mixes constituting an ABV range from 17% to 53%.[14][16]


There are a number of soju brands directly outside the Korean Peninsula for the ethnic Korean population, and most use rice as the foundation since the price is significantly cheaper than in South Korea. Soju from North and South Korea, from firms like Jinro,[17] is also imported.


Liquors in Canada are subject to regulations that vary from province to province. In Ontario, the provincially run Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) sells soju, but not all outlets carry it. The LCBO sells three different kinds of soju: Chamisul Fresh Soju by Jinro, Charm Soju by Kum Bok Ju Co, and Chum Churum Cool Soju by Lotte.[18] Not all LCBO establishments have soju, but almost all Korean LLBO (licensed) restaurants sell it.

In other Canadian provinces liquor sales may be privatized or semi-privatized. In Alberta, for example, a liquor store may carry dozens of brands of Soju.[19]

United States

The liquor licensing laws in the states of California and New York specifically exempt the sale of soju from regulation relating to the sale of other distilled spirits, allowing businesses with a beer/wine license to sell it without requiring the more expensive license required for other distilled spirits.[20] The only stipulation is that the soju must be clearly labeled as such and contain less than 25% alcohol.[21] 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 shōchū, have begun to re-label their products as soju for sale in those regions.[22] Jinro's American division has partnered with Korean pop star PSY to promote Soju in the U.S., and in 2013 partnered with the Los Angeles Dodgers to sell Soju at its games.[23]


A bottle of Chamisul soju.

Jinro is the largest manufacturer of soju accounting for half of all white spirits sold in South Korea.[24] Soju accounts for 97% of the category. Global sales in 2013 were 750 million bottles; the second-largest spirits brand, Smirnoff, sold less than half that number.[5] The most popular variety of soju is currently Jinro[24] (참 이슬 - literally meaning "real dew"), a quadruple-filtered soju produced by Jinro, but recently Chum-Churum (처음처럼 - "like the first time") of Lotte BG (롯데) and JoeunDay (좋은데이 - means "GoodDay") of Muhak (무학) are increasing their market share. However, the popularity of brands varies by region. In Busan, C1 Soju (시원 소주) is the local and most popular brand. Ipsaeju (잎새주 - "leaf alcohol") is popular in the Jeollanam-do region.[25] The Daegu Metropolitan Area has its own soju manufacturer, Kumbokju, with the popular brand Cham (참).[26][27] Further north in the same province, Andong Soju is one of Korea's few remaining traditionally distilled brands of soju.[2] On the Special Self-Governing Province of Jeju-do, Hallasan Soju is the most common brand, being named after the island's main mountain Mt. Halla.[25] In Gyeongsangnam-do and Ulsan, the most popular is Joeunday Soju (Hangul: 좋은데이), produced by Muhak in Changwon.[25] 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 the most popular brands are Chamisul and Cham. In Korea Since 2015, the new kind of soju is very famous and popular. the new trends of soju are fruit soju and sparkling soju. the famous one are "sunhari","brother soda"[28]


Although beer, whiskey 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.[29] In 2006, it was estimated that the average adult Korean (older than 20) had consumed 90 bottles of soju during that year.[30] In 2014, it was reported that South Koreans of drinking age consumed an average of 13.7 shots of spirit per week; the figure for Russia, in second place, was 6.3. By contrast consumption in the U.S. was 3.3 shots, Canada was 2.5, and the U.K. 2.3 shots.[31]


While soju is traditionally consumed straight, a few cocktails and mixed drinks use soju as a base spirit. Beer and soju can be mixed to create somaek (소맥), a portmanteau of the words soju and maekju (맥주 beer).[32] Flavored soju is also available. It is also popular to blend fruits with soju and to drink it in "slushy" form.[33] Another very popular flavored soju is yogurt soju (요구르트 소주), which is a combination of soju, yogurt, and lemon lime soda.[34]

A poktanju (폭탄주) ("bomb drink") consists of a shot glass of soju dropped into a pint of beer (similar to a boilermaker); it is drunk quickly.[35] This is similar to the Japanese sake bomb.[36]

Soju is sometimes mistakenly referred to as cheongju (청주), a Korean rice wine. Mass-produced soju is also mistaken for Chinese baijiu, a grain liquor, and shōchū, a Japanese beverage.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Why You Should Be Drinking Korean Soju Right Now". Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  2. 1 2
  3. "Difference between traditional and modern factory produced soju". Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  4. "Various facts about soju". Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  5. 1 2 "Jinro Soju – the world leader". The Whiskey Exchange. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  6. "TED Case Study--soju". Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  7. 1 2 "". Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  8. "Merriam-Webster new words for 2008". Valleywag. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  9. Do, H. (2011). 전쟁이 요리한 음식의 역사[History of war and food]. Seoul: Sidaeuichang
  10. "How to Drink Soju Like the Koreans". Obsev. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  11. "What is Soju ?". Alcoholic Science. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  12. 1 2 "Moving beyond the green blur: a history of soju". JoongAng Daily.
  13. "History of Soju" (in Korean). Doosan Encyclopeida. Archived from the original on December 7, 2008.
  14. 1 2 Hall, Joshua (October 17, 2014). "Soju Makers Aim to Turn Fire Water Into Liquid Gold". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
  15. "90 Years of Soju". Asian Correspondent.
  16. "Hwayo" (English and Korean). Hwayo brand website. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
  17. "Jinro Brings New Soju Brand To China". Drinks Daily. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  20. Soju Goes Where Vodka Cannot Tread, Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2002. (Accessed February 2011)
  22. "What is Sochu?". Sake World Homepage. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  23. "Move Over Vodka; Korean Soju's Taking A Shot At America". NPR. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  24. 1 2 "It's official: Jinro soju is the world's best-selling liquor". Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Retrieved December 15, 2015.
  25. 1 2 3 "The Most Popular Soju by Region in South Korea". Viki Inc. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  26. "Charm Soju". EtradeDaegu. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  27. "ð -"ִ "". Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  28. kang, pilsung (2016-03-22). "the sparkling soju and fruit soju are new trends".
  29. "Cigarette Sales Surge to Historic High". Chosun Ilbo. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. Retrieved June 29, 2005.
  30. "Let's Have a Soju Tonight". KBS World. Retrieved January 1, 2008.
  31. "South Koreans drink twice as much liquor as Russians and more than four times as much as Americans". Quartz. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  32. "Korean Drink Soju Cocktail : Socol, Somaek.". Foodstoryist. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  33. "Slushie Soju, a new way for Koreans (the #1 alcoholic beverage consumers) in the world to enjoy their favorite beverage". 6Theory Media, LLC. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  34. "".
  35. "Heavy-Drinking Culture Challenged in S. Korea". The Seoul Times Company. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  36. "Sake Bomb". Autodesk Inc. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
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