7 Best Korean Drinks You Must Try

Korean drinks for every palate! From classic Soju to fizzy Makgeolli, explore sweet plums & floral infusions.

Published On Jun 16, 2024 | Updated On Jun 16, 2024


Ever scrolled through K-dramas and seen those frosty bottles of clear liquid everyone's clinking? That, my friends, is Soju, and it's a fantastic intro to Korean drinking culture. But hold on to your kimchi pancakes, because there's a whole world of deliciousness waiting.

This ain't your typical pub crawl. We're talking sweet, bubbly rice wines, fruity infusions, and even a tipple that tastes like a whole flower shop exploded in your mouth (in a good way).

So, are you ready to ditch the boring beers and dive into a boozy adventure of Korean drinks? Let's get started! What are you waiting for? Grab your virtual chopsticks and get ready to embark on a delicious Korean drinking adventure.

Also, tell us in the comments section below, are you curious about trying something a little different?


Soju (소주) reigns supreme in Korea, holding the title of the country's national drink. Traditionally crafted from rice, it was distilled to a potent 35% ABV. However, modern soju is typically around 16-20% ABV and made with a mix of starches like sweet potato or tapioca, making it smoother and more affordable. 

While some say this Korean drink has a neutral vodka-like taste, others detect a hint of sweetness or even a touch of citrus. Don't be fooled by its clean look, though – soju packs a punch! Despite its widespread popularity (over 4 billion bottles consumed annually!), soju is relatively unknown outside of Korea. But hey, that just means your Korean food adventure can be extra special.

Soju is enjoyed in a variety of ways. Traditionally, it's served ice cold in small shot glasses and consumed neat during Korean meals. Koreans often like to do cheers (geondrae 건배) before taking a shot. Soju also plays a big role in Korean social culture and bonding. In recent years, Soju cocktails have become increasingly popular,  offering a fun twist on the classic drink.

Michael Sean Gallagher/CC BY-SA 2.0/ Wikimedia Commons

Cheongju (청주), literally meaning clear liquor, is a refined rice wine that stands in delicious contrast to the boldness of Soju. Instead of Soju's modern, mass-produced nature, Cheongju boasts a rich history dating back centuries. Traditionally brewed during the colder months, it involves fermenting steamed rice with nuruk (a Korean fermentation starter) and water. After fermentation, the clear liquid is filtered, resulting in a beverage with a clean, elegant taste.  

Cheongju is revered for its subtle sweetness and a hint of earthiness, making it a versatile drink enjoyed both chilled in the summer and warmed during the winter. While Soju reigns supreme in national popularity, Cheongju holds a special place in Korean culture, particularly in southern regions like Nonsan, Gunsan, and Masan, famous for their unique Cheongju variations. While some health benefits are associated with traditional fermentation processes, Cheongju, like any alcohol, should be enjoyed responsibly.

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Bokbunja (복분자), also known as Korean black raspberry wine, offers a delightful departure from Korea's usual rice-based alcoholic beverages. This vibrant ruby red drink is crafted by steeping Korean black raspberries (sometimes supplemented with other fruits) in honey and rice wine. The fermentation process imbues Bokbunja with a sweet and slightly tart flavour profile, often likened to a luxurious blend of raspberry and blackberry jam.

Unlike Soju's clean finish, Bokbunja lingers with a touch of dryness, making it surprisingly refreshing despite its moderate alcohol content (around 15-19%). Traditionally enjoyed neat and chilled in small cups for a post-meal digestif, Bokbunja's versatility allows it to be enjoyed warmly or even incorporated into cocktails for a unique twist.

While some believe it possesses health benefits like improved circulation and anti-ageing properties, scientific evidence remains inconclusive. Regardless, Bokbunja's alluring colour, delightful taste, and rich cultural significance make it a must-try for anyone venturing into the world of Korean drinks.

Taste Atlas

Baekseju (백세주), translating to hundred-year liquor,  is a unique Korean alcoholic beverage steeped in tradition and health benefits (or at least, legendary ones). This clear, herb-infused rice wine is brewed using glutinous rice and flavoured with a blend of Korean herbs and spices, most prominently ginseng. The exact recipe can vary, but other common ingredients include ginger, goji berries, and even cinnamon. 

This infusion creates a mellow drink with a subtle sweetness and a distinct herbaceous character. Baekseju boasts a lower alcohol content of around 13%, making it a refreshing and easy-drinking option. Baekseju's name reflects the belief in its health-promoting properties, with legends suggesting it can contribute to a long life. 

While scientific evidence might be limited, Baekseju's historical significance and delightful flavour profile make it a worthy addition to any Korean drinking experience, especially when paired with spicy dishes to complement its herbal notes.

Republic of Korea/ CC BY-SA 2.0/ Wikimedia commons

Makgeolli (막걸리) means crude or unfiltered rice wine, offering a delightful contrast to Korea's more polished alcoholic beverages. This milky, off-white drink is a testament to Korea's ancient brewing traditions. Made by fermenting cooked rice with nuruk (a Korean fermentation starter), Makgeolli boasts a slightly fizzy texture and a complex flavour profile. It's a symphony of sweet, tangy, and slightly bitter notes, often with a hint of nuttiness.

Unlike the clear soju or refined cheongju, Makgeolli embraces a rustic charm with a pleasant sediment at the bottom. Traditionally served in bowls and shared amongst friends, its lower alcohol content (around 6-9%) makes it a communal and refreshing drink perfect for any occasion. Whether enjoyed alongside a platter of Korean BBQ or savoured on its own, Makgeolli offers a unique and flavorful glimpse into Korea's rich drinking culture.

By 국립국어원/ CC BY-SA 2.0/ Wikimedia Commons

Capture sunshine in a glass with Maesil-ju (매실주), a Korean plum wine that's more than just sweet. This vibrantly coloured elixir infused soju, a Korean rice spirit, with the essence of maesil plums. The result? A delightful melody of sweet and tart that dances on your tongue. Apart from heavy dessert wines, Maesil-ju stays light on its feet, making it the perfect foil for Korea's bold flavours. 

Sip it chilled on a hot day for a refreshing escape, or pair it with a spicy dish for a taste bud adventure. Maesil-ju is a delightful reminder that sometimes, the simplest ingredients create the most captivating flavours.

Taste Atlas 

Beyond the realm of soju and fiery flavours lies Gukhwaju (국화주), a Korean rice wine that sings a different tune. Imagine a melody of delicate chrysanthemum blossoms dancing with hints of honey on your palate. The golden liquid, a testament to Korea's love for seasonal delights, is infused with these fragrant flowers during fermentation, lending a subtle sweetness and a touch of earthy elegance.

Gukhwaju whispers its story as a cool refreshment when chilled, or a comforting warmth when enjoyed slightly heated. Each sip is a poetic experience, capturing the essence of a Korean harvest moon and offering a taste of autumn unlike any other.

We've belly-flopped into the vibrant world of Korean drinks, splashing around in Soju, chilling with Makgeolli, and even getting a whiff of autumn with Gukhwaju. But this boozy escapade is just getting started.

Hit us in the comments with what tickles your fancy. Do you crave the sweet whispers of Maesil-ju, or maybe the funky fizz of Dongdongju is your jam? Remember, Korean drinks are all about sharing the fun.

Disclaimer: At ZeeZest, we do not promote or endorse drinking habits. We firmly believe in the importance of responsible consumption and awareness. Please remember that drinking alcohol can be injurious to your health. We encourage all our readers to make informed and responsible choices regarding alcohol consumption.

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