Korean alcoholic beverages

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Korean name
Hanja n/a
Revised Romanization sul
McCune–Reischauer sul
IPA [sul]
Hangul -술
Hanja n/a
Revised Romanization -sul
McCune–Reischauer -sul
IPA [sul]
Suffix 2
Hangul -주
Revised Romanization -ju
McCune–Reischauer -chu
IPA [tɕu]

Korean culture has a wide variety of traditional alcoholic beverages, called sul (). Most of these beverages end with the Sino-Korean word ju (; ), while some alcoholic beverages end with the native Korean word sul; the Sino-Korean ju is not used as an independent noun.

It is said that there are over 1,000 different kinds of alcoholic beverages in Korea. Most Korean alcohols are made from glutinous and non-glutinous rice and are fermented with the aid of yeast and nuruk (a wheat-based source of the enzyme amylase). Fruits, flowers, herbs and other natural ingredients have also been used to craft traditional Korean alcoholic beverages. There are six distinguished flavors in Korean alcohol: sweet, sour, pungent, roasted, bitter and spicy. When these six flavors are all harmonized and in balance, the alcohol is considered to be a quality liquor. Korean alcohol is divided into three categories: Gwasilju (fruit liquor), Jeungryuju (distilled liquor), and Yakju (rice liquor).[1]


Most traditional Korean alcoholic beverages are rice wines made from both glutinous rice and non-glutinous rice. These are fermented with the aid of yeast and nuruk (fermentation starter), a wheat-based source of the enzyme amylase.

There are six main types of Korean alcoholic beverages: yakju, distilled liquors (including soju), takju, fruit wines, flower wines, and medicinal wines.


Daepo, a branded yakju

Yakju is a refined rice wine made from steamed rice that has gone through several fermentation stages. It is also called myeongyakju or beopju and is distinguished from takju by its relative clarity.

Varieties include baekhaju (백하주), which is made from glutinous rice and Korean nuruk (fermentation starter),[2] and Heukmeeju (hangul: 흑미주; hanja: 黑米酒; literally "black rice wine"), which is made from black rice.[3]

Yakju is brewed with hard boiled rice, yeast, and water. If chrysanthemum is included, it is called Gukhwaju; if azalea is added, it is called Dugyeonju; if pine sprout is used, it is called Songsunju; if lotus leaves are added, it is called Ywonyeopju; if ginseng is used, it is called Insamju. In addition, takju or cheongju or yakju is distilled and various medicinal herbs are put into the distilled liquor. That is called mixed liquor, which is brewed to use the medicinal effects of the herbs. It is good for health and allegedly treats diseases.


Cheongju is a clear rice wine similar to Japanese sake. One popular brand of cheongju is Chung Ha, which is widely available at Korean restaurants. There are various local variations, including beopju, which is brewed in the ancient city of Gyeongju.[4]

Distilled liquors[edit]

Korean distilled liquors include goryangju and okroju.[5] Another variety, called munbaeju, has the distinction of being South Korea's Important Intangible Cultural Property Number 86‑1. Munbaeju is a traditional aged distilled liquor made of malted millet, sorghum, wheat, rice, and nuruk, with a strength of 40 percent alcohol by volume. It originates in the Pyongyang region of North Korea and is noted for its fragrance, which is said to resemble the flower of the munbae tree (similar to a pear).[4][6]


Bottle and glass of Jinro soju

Soju, a clear, slightly sweet distilled spirit, is by far the most popular Korean liquor. Koreans call soju "a friend of life" and "common people's drink." It is made from grains such as rice, barley and wheat, or from starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and tapioca. Soju is often compared to vodka, but it has a sweet taste due to the added sugar. The drink is usually served neat and in a shot glass, and it should be drunk as a shot or sipped on. It is smooth and clean in taste, which makes it easy to pair with a variety of Korean dishes. It is generally inexpensive. A typical bottle of soju costs about 1,000 won, less than 1 dollar. It typically has an alcohol content of 40 proof (20% alc. by volume). [7]

In the 13th century, during the Goryeo Dynasty ruling, Mongol invaders brought their soju, known as "araki" with them.[8] "Araki" comes from the Arabian term "araq", which means distilled liquor. Thus soju was originally developed in Arabia and passed through Mongolia before it made its way to Korea. Koreans had never before encountered distilled liquor, as they were accustomed to drinking fermented alcoholic beverages such as makgeolli. Mongol base camps, such as Kaesong, Andong, and Jeju Island, are now famous soju producing regions. ("Koreana:A Quarterly on Korean Art & Culture", 2016).

In the late 20th century, soju flavored with Lemon or Green tea became available. Soju mixed with beer is called somaek (소맥) and is widely popular.[citation needed] The Japanese version is called Shōchū.

Yagyongjeungryuju, medicinal distilled liquor

Leegangju is an alcoholic beverage usually brewed in Jeolla Provinces and Hwanghae Province from the mid-Joseon Dynasty period. Curcuma tuber and cinnamon flavor and pear refreshment are well harmonized to give delicate scent. It has straw color.

Gamhongro is a traditional liquor in light pink and it is well known in Pyeongyang and Gwanseo Region in Korea. Various medicinal herbs are added and fermented. This liquor is distilled three times and aged for 120 years.

Sungokjeungryuju, distilled liquor made from rice wine

This is a danyangbeop (single brew) or leeyangbeop (second brew), a traditional grain wine brewing method. After manufacturing takju (turbid rice-wine) or cheongju, it is distilled to get soju.

Andong Soju is well known in Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Its taste and flavor are distinctive so that many people love this liquor as a Korean traditional distilled spirits.

Okroju of Gyeonggi-do is originated from Hanyang of the late Joseon Dynasty era. Recently, The taste of this liquor brewed through Korean traditional brewing method of Gyeonggi-do is very attractive so that its value as a Korean traditional alcoholic beverage is appreciated.

Moonbaesool (or Munbae-ju) is a distilled liquor, brewed with wheat.

Yagyonggokryuju, medicinal grain wine

This liquor is brewed with medicinal herbs. Baekseju and Ogapiju are a yagyonggokryuju.

Gahyanggokju, flavored rice wine

This yakju (rice wine) is brewed with flowers and leaves to give distinctive flavor to this liquor. Kookhwaju (chrysanthemum wine), Omijaju (maximowiczia typica), Songjeolju, and Dugyeonju are a gahyanggokju.


This liquor is brewed with grain by adding soju. Kwahaju and Songsunju are a honju.


Makgeolli, also known as takju, is a milky, sweet alcoholic beverage made from rice. It is also called nongju. Makgeolli is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Korea. It is the oldest traditional Korean rice wine, and generally ranges from 6 - 7% in alcohol content. It is fermented naturally and unfiltered which gives it its milky white color and makes it chalky at the bottom. The beverage is thick but smooth. It tastes sweet with a slight tang and leaves a cool aftertaste. It is served in a bowl rather than a cup.

It is unclear when Koreans began to drink makgeolli, but according to "Poetic Records of Emperors and Kings," written during the Goryeo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392), the drink was first mentioned in the founding story of the Goguryeo Kingdom during the reign of King Dongmyeong (B.C. 37 - B.C. 19). (KOCIS, 2016).

Makgeolli is brewed using classical methods with nuruk (molded cereals that produce hydrolysable enzymes that decompose macromolecules to monomers for yeast growth) cooked rice, water, barley and yeasts. (Choi et al., 2014). The brewing process consists of two steps: seed mash and main mash or main fermentation. Seed mash is the stage of obtaining actively growing yeasts and enzymes in the mixture of yeast and nuruk. The purpose of main mash is to acquire taste and aroma intrinsic by the transformation of nutrients and amino acids derived from the rice. Main fermentation lasts about a week. (Kang, Lee, & Park, 2014).

Thanks to its fermentation process using microorganisms, it is both a liquor and a health drink. It contains 1.9% protein, over 10 amino acids, along with vitamin B, inositol and choline. Makgeolli is known for boosting metabolism, relieving fatigue, and bettering one’s complexion. (KOCIS, 2016).

A regional and slightly creamier variant, originally from Gyeonggi-do, is called Dongdongju. Another variety, called ihwaju (hangul: 이화주; hanja: ; literally "pear blossom wine") was so named because it was brewed from rice with rice malt that had fermented during the pear blossom season.[9] Ihwaju is often so thick that it must be eaten with a spoon. Many farmers like to drink these alcoholic beverages when they work in rice paddies.

A similar drink is called Gamju; this name is also used for various non-alcoholic sweet drinks including Sikhye (식혜).

Fruit wines[edit]

A bottle of bokbunja ju

Korea has a number of traditional fruit wines, produced by combining fruits or berries with alcohol. Podoju (포도주, 葡萄酒) is made from rice wine that is mixed with grapes. The most popular fruit wines include maesil-ju made from plums, bokbunja-ju made from Korean black raspberry,[10] and wines made from Chinese quinces, cherries, and pomegranates.

Persimmon wine (감와인) from Daegu

Gwasilju is usually made from fruits or grains. In the spring, people tend to brew alcoholic beverages using azaleas, forsythias, peaches, and pears. In the summer, lotuses and roses are often used. In the fall, chrysanthemum, yuzu, Korean wild grapes and black raspberries, and apples are often infused. In the winter, Asian apricot is sometimes used.

Insamju, ginseng wine

Flower wines[edit]

There are a number of Korean traditional wines produced from flowers. These include wines made from chrysanthemums, called gukhwaju, acacia flowers, maesil blossoms, peach blossoms, honeysuckle, wild roses, and sweet briar petals and berries.[11]

Dugyeonju is a wine made from Azalea petals, produced in Chungcheong Province. It is sweet, viscous, and light yellowish brown in color, and contains about 21% alcohol. Myeoncheon Dugyeonju is designated by the South Korean government as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 86-2.[12]

Medicinal wines[edit]

Beolddeok Ju medicinal rice wine, believed to increase male stamina

Medicinal liqueurs, called yagyongju (약용주, 藥用酒) are produced by combining medicinal seeds, herbs, and roots with alcohol.

  • Bek Se ju is a commercial variant of medicinal wine, and is the most popular medicinal wine for younger people, who generally do not drink it primarily for its medicinal properties. It has become a popular alternative to soju in most restaurants and drinking establishments. It is a rice wine infused with ginseng and eleven other herbs, including licorice, omija (Schisandra chinensis), gugija (Chinese wolfberry), Astragalus, ginger, and cinnamon, and is 13% alcohol.[13][14]
  • Beolddeok ju; a rice wine infused with herbal medicines and sweetened with pumpkin malt that is believed to increase male stamina. The bottles are often sold topped with a ceramic penis with a smiling face.[15][16]
  • Bem ju is made by placing a snake in a jar of distilled liquor like Soju and aging it. It is a folk remedy that is said to be particularly "good for men." Various types of snakes are used. Local lore has it that the more venomous the snake, the more powerful the medicinal quality (and the higher the price).
  • Chuseongju is a traditional wine made from glutinous and non-glutinous rice, herbs including omija (Schisandra chinensis) and Eucommia ulmoides; it is commercially available in a bamboo-shaped bottle.
  • Daeipsul (대잎술) is another traditional folk wine from Damyang County, South Jeolla Province, made from glutinous rice, brown rice, and bamboo leaves, along with ten medicinal herbs.[17]
  • Dosoju is a popular herbal wine, traditionally served only on New Year's Day.[18]
  • Insamju, made with Ginseng, is said to be the most popular medicinal wine among older people.[19]
  • Jugyeopcheongju is a traditional liquor made with bamboo leaves.[20]
  • Ogalpiju is made from the bark of Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus blended with soju and sugar.
  • Sansachun is another commercial Korean wine made from the red fruits of the sansa, or Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida). The Bae Sang Myun Brewery Company markets this wine, claiming therapeutic effects.[21]
  • Songsunju is soju made with glutinous rice and soft, immature pine cones or sprouts.[22][23]


Beer (called maekju; hangul: 맥주; hanja: in Korean) was introduced to Korea by Europeans and there are several breweries in South Korea.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Liquor | Official Korea Tourism Organization". english.visitkorea.or.kr. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ a b Traditional Liquor Korea Tourism Organization. Retrieved 28 August 2009
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 November 2006. Retrieved 23 April 2006. 
  6. ^ "Drinks of the Ancients". SkyNews. Retrieved 27 May 2016. 
  7. ^ "Soju: Everything You Need to Know About Korea's National Drink | Soju Guide". VinePair. 2017-03-07. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  8. ^ "The History of Soju and its Modernization | 10 Magazine Korea". 10 Magazine Korea. 2016-07-28. Retrieved 2017-11-09. 
  9. ^ [3] Archived 30 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ [4]
  11. ^ "Flower Pancakes and Flower Liquor : Traditional Food with a Floral Fragrance". Koreana. 2003. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. 
  12. ^ "Drinks of the Ancients". Sky News. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 21 March 2009. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 May 2006. Retrieved 23 April 2006. 
  15. ^ "A Taste of the Sea and the Mountain". Koreataste. Korea Tourism Organization. 19 September 2011. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  16. ^ Seo (서), Bu-won (부원) (11 March 2010). "'남근목' '벌떡주'...예스럽던 동해안은 어디로 갔나" (in Korean). OhmyNews. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  17. ^ [5]
  18. ^ 도소주 (in Korean). Korean Folk Encyclopedia. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  19. ^ Pettid, Michael J. (2008). Korean cuisine: an illustrated history. China: Reaktion Books Ltd. pp. 110–123. ISBN 978-1-86189-348-2. 
  20. ^ [6]
  21. ^ [7]
  22. ^ [8]
  23. ^ 송순주담그기 (in Korean). Korean Folk Encyclopedia. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 


External links[edit]