Soju vs Sake! Are Soju and Sake the same? And most importantly which is the better drink? We put these East-Asian titans to the test.
Soju vs Sake
It was not all that long ago that sake was all the rage with the hipster crowd, whilst at the same time almost no one had even heard of Soju. But in the last 10 years Korean soft power has seen things from Korea suddenly being cool. K-Pop is loved throughout the world, many of us drive Korean cars and Soju is the best selling liquor in the world.
Well, not quite, but Jinro, the main brand of Soju from South Korea is the best selling liquor brand in the world. You can read more about that here.
Sake was previously much more popular than Soju when it came to global consumption, but nowadays you are unlikely to see it in anywhere but specialist stores. Soju vs Sake, lets go.
What is Soju?
Soju is a clear, colorless distilled alcoholic beverage from Korea. It is said to be based on a drink originally invented by the Mongolians. A standard Soju ranges from 15-22%. This in theory makes it more “wine like”. That being said super strength Soju is made (particularly in the north) with everything from ginseng to mushrooms that can be up to 70% proof. Traditionally it is made from rice, wheat, or barley. Nowadays and due to mass production potatoes are also used.
How do you drink Soju?
Soju is served either cold, or at room temperature and sipped from a shot glass. It is traditional to be served by someone else. Drinking culture means that the younger people serve the drinks of their elders at the table. If an elder pours your drink you hold the glass with both hands. In South Korea the youngest turns away their head and sips in an act of politeness. A bit different to English pub culture.
What about flavored soju?
It has since become fashionable to make fruit flavoured soju. These are much weaker and in the humble opinion of the writer an absolute bonafide abomination.
Any good soju cocktails?
The South Koreans created the Somaek, where you pour a shot of Soju into a glass of beer. A portmanteau of Soju and Maekju (beer). This is the only acceptable cocktail.
What is sake?
Sake as opposed to soju is a rice wine/liquor made by fermented rice. In this sense Sake is part of the wider rice-wine family that includes BaiJiu. We will talk about BaiJiu later. Sake is anywhere from 5-22%, with the 18-20 variety being most popular.
How do you drink sake?
This is where the difference between the beverages really kicks in. Sake is often served with special ceremony, where it is gently warmed in a small earthenware or porcelain bottle and sipped from a small porcelain cup called a sakazuki. The ceremony can involve multiple toasts and a strict hierarchy on who drinks it and when. In some ways the differences in how these two countries take their national drink is indicative of how different they are as countries.
Of course there are a lot of different varieties of Sake, and much like with regular wine the temperature at which you consume it can vary.
Are there sake cocktails?
If you go back ten years, or so sake was a really big deal, but its popularity around the world has declined. In the Soju vs Sake battle you are more likely to see the hipsters using soju than sake in their latest mix.
Soju vs Sake – taste challenge!
Soju and sake come in so many different varieties that it is impossible to say how they “taste”. So, in the interests of this experiment I will focus on the most popular brands that people would drink on a daily basis. I find classic soju to be a very smooth clear white beverage. It is not as flavourless as vodka say, it has a flavour, but it is also easy to down, or mix with lime/calamansi (trust me on that one). It also makes a good side accompaniment to beer.
Sake on the other hand I find to have a stronger more potent taste. As it is usually served hot I find this makes the flavours much stronger as a result. So, much like everything soju vs sake will depend very much on your own preferences, but for me at least there is only one east Asian liquor in my heart, and it is not sake or BaiJiu!