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November 3, 2014

KDrama Word of the Day: Soju

An uncapped bottle of soju with a full shot glass beside it소주 or soju is a clear Korean liquor which appears almost as often in Korean drama as 사랑 (and often in connection with it). Traditional soju is made from grain (rice, barley, or wheat), but it can also be made from other starches such as potatoes or yams.

It is pretty much flavorless (pictured is my first bottle of soju, which was maple flavored, but only faintly), and very similar to vodka. This bottle was about 20% alcohol (or 40 proof in U.S. terms). In Korea, that’s about average, but the alcohol content can be as high as 45%.

Korea has the highest hard liquor consumption rate in the world (which will not surprise drama lovers), 97% of it soju, which is very cheap and widely available.

Since drinking together is promoted in many contexts, including among conspiring power-brokers (also seen in KDrama), there is a drinking etiquette about who pours for whom, who drinks first, etc. In KDrama, you may have noticed a younger person turning away from an older person while drinking. Not doing this may indicate closeness, or intentional rudeness.

Further Reading:

Drinking in Korea (

South Koreans drink twice as much liquor as Russians and more than four times as much as Americans (Check out this infographic on Quartz)

Soju: the most popular booze in the world (The Guardian)

South Korean Police Tire of Abuse by Drinkers (New York Times)

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