How To Drink Soju: Etiquette, Cocktail Recipes and Games

Soju being poured into a shot glass

Soju has soared in global popularity over the last couple of years due to its light and refreshing taste. While it’s an enjoyable and delightful drink, there are some etiquettes you’ll need to observe when consuming this traditional alcoholic beverage with other Koreans.

In this article, we’ll share what soju is and how to drink soju like a Korean. We’ll also introduce some mixers and fun drinking games you can play while enjoying this beverage with your mates!

Table of Contents

What is soju?

Soju is a type of distilled spirit made from rice, barley or wheat. It’s best served chilled and goes well with various kinds of Korean food, especially Korean barbeque (BBQ)!

  • Appearance: Clear
  • Taste: Clean and refreshing; has a neutral taste with a hint of bitterness and a slightly sweet aftertaste
  • Alcohol percentage: 13 – 30%

Soju traditions and etiquette

Pouring soju into a white soju glass

Rather than just taking a shot, drinking soju requires a lot more thought and consideration.

Its rules are deeply steeped in tradition and focus on respect for one’s elders and seniors. Thus, many of these drinking etiquettes are dependent on your age and seniority.

1. Oldest or most senior person will pour the first drink

The first shot is typically poured by the oldest or highest-ranking individual for the youngest or most junior individual. This signifies the start of the drinking session.

2. Receive the drink with both hands

When receiving a drink, you should always hold your shot glass with 2 hands. If the glass is too small to use both hands, you should hold it with your left and support it with your right.

You should also bow slightly when receiving the drink to show respect for the other person. If you’re drinking with close friends, you may choose not to observe this tradition of bowing.

Note: These rules are especially crucial if the person pouring you a drink is significantly older or more senior!

3. Turn to your side when drinking

After receiving the drink, your first instinct may be to just take the shot immediately. However, in Korean culture, you’re advised to turn to your side to down the drink (with both hands too!).

Drinking with 2 hands and turning to the side are signs of respect, especially if you’re facing your elder or superior!

4. Down your first drink in one shot

For your first drink, you should consume it in one shot. After which, you’re welcomed to enjoy the drinks at your own pace.

5. Avoid pouring your own drink

The basic rule of thumb when it comes to drinking soju is to never fill your own shot glass! If you’ve received a drink from someone else, it’s only polite to pour one back. 

Additionally, if you notice empty glasses on the table, you should offer to fill them up. Remember to begin with the oldest or highest-ranking individual and move down the hierarchy accordingly!

Don’t worry if your glass is empty after filling up everyone else’s; someone will fill yours for you!

6. Pour with both hands

It’s important to note that using both hands doesn’t apply to just drinking — it applies to pouring as well!

As soju bottles are usually small and slender, you can grab the bottle with one hand and support your elbow or wrist with the other. If you’re drinking with a group of close friends, you may choose to ignore this rule.

Soju cocktails and mixes

Soju is great as a standalone drink, but you can enhance its flavour with these simple cocktails and mixes. We recommend using Jinro soju, a popular brand in Korea and around the world!

1. Soju bomb (Somaek)

This is one of the most common and easiest soju cocktails to create as it only requires soju and beer. A lighter beer is recommended for this drink.

  • 2 shots of soju
  • ½ glass of beer

2. Soju, beer and coke (Cojinganmek)

This cocktail takes the soju bomb up a level with a dash of coke! The added sweetness offered by the coke is great for those who prefer a sweeter drink.

  • 2 shots of soju
  • 90% beer
  • A dash of coke

3. Yoghurt soju

Another popular soju cocktail is the yoghurt soju! It’s made by adding Yakult to your soju. You can also add a dash of Sprite for some fizz.

  • 2 shots of soju
  • ½ glass of Yakult
  • A dash of Sprite (optional)

4. Soju and Red Bull (Energiser)

This drink isn’t called Energiser for no reason. The 1:1 ratio of soju and Red Bull is bound to give you that energy boost you need! If you find the drink a tad too sweet, you can use water or ice to dilute it.

  • 40% soju
  • 40% Red Bull
  • Water or ice (optional)

5. Screw Bar soju

The name of this cocktail comes from the main ingredient of the drink — the Screw Bar popsicle. Just dunk the ice pop into the soju-Sprite mixture, give it a good stir and enjoy!

  • 60% soju
  • 40% Sprite
  • 1 Screw Bar ice pop

6. Melona soju (Ujjujju Melony)

Similar to the Screw Bar soju, the main ingredient of this beverage is the Melona ice cream. It’s a popular Korean ice cream that comes in 4 flavours: honeydew, strawberry, banana and mango. All you have to do is dissolve a bar of Melona ice cream in your soju-Sprite mixture. The result is a milkshake-like cocktail!

  • 60% soju
  • 40% Sprite
  • 1 Melona bar

7. Soju and coffee

If you’re a coffee lover, try enjoying the drink in a new way by mixing it up with soju! Don’t be afraid that the soju will ruin the aroma of the coffee because it only enhances it.

  • 2 shots of soju
  • ½ glass of coffee

8. Soju and grape gummies

This concoction was created by Jinro. It’s a quick and easy recipe and all you need is a little bit of patience.

To make this drink, empty out a packet of grape gummies into a glass filled with soju. Leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Once the time’s up, grab it from the fridge and enjoy this refreshing drink!

  • 1 bottle of soju
  • 1 packet of grape gummies

9. Watermelon soju

The watermelon soju is a drink that you can commonly see at Korean restaurants. Instead of ordering it (it’s often pricey), you can make it at home and invite your friends over to share this drink! Just scoop watermelon flesh into a blender and mix it with soju. Use the watermelon husk as a bowl for the deliciously sweet mixture!

  • 1 bottle of soju
  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 cup of ice

Soju drinking games

1. Flick the cap

Pouring soju into a clear shot glass with bottle cap in background
 Players: 2+
 Time taken: A few minutes
 Items needed: Soju bottle cap, soju

This is one of the most popular soju drinking games and has a simple objective: remove the end piece of the soju bottle cap by flicking it!

How to play:
  1. Remove the bottle cap and twist the end piece to make it stiff.
  2. Take turns to flick the end piece.
  3. The person who’s able to flick it off wins!
Penalty: Everyone except the winner must take a shot.

2. Titanic

 Players: 2+
 Time taken: A few minutes
 Items needed: Soju, beer, a shot glass and a regular-sized glass

One game often played at Korean BBQ restaurants is Titanic! The objective is simple: don’t let the shot glass sink.

Unlike ‘flick the cap’, which is about luck and strength, strategising is key in this game!

How to play:
  1. Fill ½ a glass with beer.
  2. Place a shot glass carefully into the glass with beer. Make sure that it’s floating!
  3. Take turns to pour any amount of soju into the shot glass.
  4. The person who sinks the shot glass loses!
Penalty: The loser is to drink the soju bomb mixture.

3. Baskin Robbins 31

 Players: 3+
 Time taken: Less than a minute
 Items needed: Soju

Don’t be misled by the name of the game — no ice cream is involved!

Instead, Baskin Robbins 31 is a number counting game that requires some strategy as well. The aim of the game is to avoid ending up on 31.

How to play:
  1. Anyone can start saying “Baskin Robbins 31”. This signals the start of the game!
  2. The one who starts the game will count from 1 up to 3.
  3. Take turns to count at least 1 number sequentially. The maximum is 3 numbers.
  4. The person who ends up counting 31 loses!
Example: Player 1 counts “1, 2, 3”. Player 2 can choose to count “4”, “4, 5” or “4, 5, 6”. This applies to all players, including player 1.

Penalty: The loser who ends up saying “31” has to take a shot.

4. Higher-lower game

 Players: 4+
 Time taken: A few minutes
 Items needed: Soju bottle cap, soju

Many aren’t aware of the hidden number on the underside of the soju bottle caps but it’s the key to the ‘higher-lower’ game!

The objective is to guess the number on the bottle cap.

How to play:
  1. Choose 1 person to be the gamemaster. The gamemaster will peek at the number on the bottle cap.
  2. A player will call a number between 1 to 100.
  3. Based on the number called, the gamemaster will reveal the range which the bottle cap number falls within.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until a person calls the number on the bottle cap. The player will be the loser!
Example: The number is 42. Player 1 calls 16. The gamemaster will reveal the range as 16 to 100. Player 2 calls 73. The range is then reduced to 16 to 73 and so on.

Penalty: The loser is to take a shot.

5. Noonchi (눈치) game

 Players: 4+ (the more the better)
 Time taken: Less than a minute
 Items needed: Soju

This is yet another number counting game but involves some intuition. The aim is to avoid calling the same number as someone else in the group.

How to play:
  1. Anyone can start by saying “Noonchi game, 1”. This signals the start of the game!
  2. Anyone at the table can call the next sequential number. If the number is called in unison by 2 or more people, they’ll receive the penalty.
  3. If the game proceeds smoothly without any collisions, the person who calls the last number loses!
Penalty: The loser(s) is/are to take a shot.

How to enjoy soju

Soju is so much more than an alcoholic beverage. While it’s deeply rooted in traditional Korean culture and values, it also has a fun and vibrant side to it. 

Practising the right etiquette and learning some fun games and mixes will help you to enjoy soju to the fullest!