How to Drink Soju Like a (Korean) Boss: 5 Steps

What you have to understand here is love it or loathe it, drinking is a big part of Korean culture. And when you’re cruising LA’s Koreatown, those green little bottles you’ll see everywhere have been responsible for cementing friendships, closing business deals, and the occasional conception.

The Most Popular Unknown Liquor in the World

You might be surprised to learn that Jinro’s brand of soju is the best-selling liquor in the world according to the Millionaires’ Club, an England-based catalog that ranks brands, liquors and spirits. Who came in a distant second? Smirnoff vodka by less than half.

So if you’re interested in drinking soju like the forlorn character in your favorite K-Drama, step up your game with this primer on soju drinking etiquette.

How to Drink Soju Like a Boss

You drink sake with sushi and it’s a grand time. While the Japanese have been perfecting their sake brews for centuries, Koreans have been busy distilling (and drinking) soju. Think of sake like wine and soju like vodka, and nothing goes better with Korean BBQ then soju with a twist.

Step 1: Pick a Green Bottle


In L.A.’s Koreatown, you’ll find these brands of soju anywhere you go: Chamisul (Jinro), Chamisul Fresh (Jinro), and Chumchurum (Lotte). Chamisul comes in at 20.1% alcohol and Chamisul Fresh is slightly weaker at 19.5%. Chumchurum also comes in at 19.5%. As for the taste, there really isn’t a difference. When drinking soju, you do not smell it and you do not swirl it around your mouth waiting for the different flavors to bounce around. You shoot soju. You shoot it fast and quick and use the communal suffering as a bonding experience. One of the reasons soju sells so well globally is it’s cheap. Soju sells for $1 in convenience stores (in Korea). And while cost doesn’t always equate to taste, in this case… let’s just say there’s a reason you drink soju in tiny little glasses.

Step 2: To Lemon or Not to Lemon?

Adding lemon to your soju is akin to adding training wheels to your trike. Unless you’re sporting breasts, you may get some looks. But you know what? I don’t care. I do it all the time. Why? Because using the bottle cap to screw a hole into a lemon is just so god@#$% fun. Lemon juice is perfect for countering the bitterness of rubbing alcohol soju. So don’t be afraid to look like a little girlie man and ask your server for a whole (tong) lemon and save your bottle cap from the soju bottle. The serrated edge is perfect for screwing into a lemon. Massage the lemon a little, then screw in the cap at the top but go in at an angle. Rotate as you turn and you’ll pop off a dime-sized section of lemon peel. Squeeze slightly into your shot glass and shoot, score! Everybody claps because you’re the best.

Step 3: Know Your Place

It’s not as important here in Los Angeles but if you’re the only round eye in the group, be prepared for a crash course in Confucian social codes which governs drinking etiquette. Korean Koreans are socially lost unless they know where they stand socially and professionally in relation to you. So little things like age, profession, economic status and other social rankings are all calculated to determine who pours who. While Koreans can do this in about .03 seconds all you really need to know is shit flows downhill. Ruler to ruled, father to son, husband to wife, elder to younger, friend to friend.

Step 4: I Know My Place, Now What?

Again, depending on how native you want to get, here are some rules that can easily be broken in Los Angeles.
– Accept glass with both hands from somebody of higher social rank.
– Avert your eyes lest your superior pluck them out.
– One shot.
– Your turn to pour.
– Another shot
– Blah, blah, blah…
– Repeat

Tip: If you’re drinking with a superior, try to keep an eye on his glass. Don’t let it go empty. If he drinks and leaves a little it means leave it alone.

Ninja Tip: My father-in-law likes to make a show of drinking me under and then calling me a big pussy. I could easily crush him but then where would I be? Be a pussy and maintain order. It is not polite to drink elders under the table unless they’re contractors. With Korean contractors anything goes.

Step 5: Soju is a Creeper

Unlike sake with it’s 15-17 percent alcohol, soju can range from 15 to 46 percent. Which means you’ll be completely fine one minute and then blasted the next. Trust me, it happens all the time so be careful and make sure you have a DD or be prepared to Uber. If you happen to be in Koreatown, you can read up on the wonderful world of underground Korean taxis and Dae Ree.

Okay, you’re ready. Go forth, be fruitful and multiply.