A Bartender's Guide Korean Style

Category : Food/Nightlife / Korean Cultures / Surviving in Korea
Nov 26, 2014

 Koreans like to drink.  It’s a big part of the culture.  It provides an outlet for people to unwind after a busy day at work.  Alcohol lets people loosen up and really get to know each other in a culture where social interactions are required to be formal and rigid.  Alcohol helps break down those old Confucian based societal rules without offending anyone.  This is why business deals are often made after the two parties drink together.  It is thought that coworkers and potential business partners can be trusted once they are drunk.   It is easy to see why Koreans do enjoy a few rounds of soju shots; they can be their wild selves without any negative repercussions!


I certainly don’t like being restrained by society, nor do I enjoy being accountable for my actions so I have no problems getting on board the Korean drinking train.  And I can’t think of better way to get drunker faster than to mix alcoholic beverages (or by playing drinking games).  By mix, I don’t mean have a beer, then a glass of wine, then a tequila shot, which in itself is bound to end in a raucous night.  I mean mixing different types of alcohol together in one glass.  In university my friend, Kog and I used to drink ‘vod-pagne’ (vodka and champagne) on a regular basis.  These days when we are feeling nostalgic we reminisce with our favorite and potent combination.


**Note: use flavored vodka (raspberry is the best) and a slightly sweet champagne (Baby Duck is our preferred brand because it’s just so darn cheap!) for the most delicious mix.


I assume Koreans have been mixing beverages for centuries because they have plenty of their own Korean creations.  For your drinking pleasure, I put together, with the help of my friends (Thanks guys!), a little list of all the possible combos you might drink while here.  If you haven’t indulged yet, please do!  Just remember to drink responsibly…whatever that means!


1. SoCol 소콜 (Soju + Coke) / SoSa 소사 (Soju + Cider - Korean 7Up) / PowerJu 파와주 (Soju + PowerAde)

These combinations are pretty basic; simply mix soju with the mixer of your preference.  Soju tastes like a sweeter less alcoholic version of vodka, so these mixes all taste similar to vodka based cocktails with the same mixers.  Koreans usually refer to these combinations as “beginner” drinks because 19 year olds and foreigners who cannot tolerate the harsh taste of soju enjoy them best.  I am a fan of soju with a splash of cider and Powerju is always my roadie (a water bottle mixed with alcohol and a mixer to take on the road) of choice.  I read that Koreans believe mixing alcohol with energy drinks is dangerous.  According to them, it causes the alcohol to absorb faster leading to blackouts.  I am confused why we need to be concerned about blacking out considering the mixes to follow.  In powerju’s defense, I believe that the PowerAde is rehydrating while the soju is dehydrating, so it’s actually good for you….or at least not bad for you…

2. SoMaek 소맥 (Soju + Maekju –Korean beer)

This is the most popular Korean alcohol combination.  I was introduced to it within 48 hours of arriving in Korea during my public school orientation a few years back.  It’s not bad.  The beer helps soften the harsh alcoholic taste of the soju and the soju adds a mildly sweet flavor to the beer.  Koreans like it too.  One businessman and somaek lover, Woo Sang-Taek, invented a special measuring cup to pour the perfect ratio of soju to beer.  On the cup the ratios from 1:9 soju to beer, gentle and smooth, to 5:5 soju to beer, blackout, are marked.  The perfect combination in his opinion is 3:7 soju to beer.  Woo’s cup has been selling out online and for good reason.  It is useful, fun and only 3000won!


3. Gojingamrae 고진감래 (“Bitter turns to Sweet” Coke + Soju + Maekju)

This is an elaborate layered beverage comprised of a half shot of coke, followed by a full shot of soju placed on top of the coke shot.  The two shot glasses are placed carefully inside a beer glass and beer is filled to just below the brim of the soju glass so all the fluids remain separate.  The drink is downed in one shot.  I tried this drink for the first time a few weeks ago and although the taste was not the best, I thought it was a fun thing to do in a group.  Everyone enjoyed the process and we all agreed that the bitter from the soju did end in sweet from the coke.  One of my friends suggested that the shot is a metaphor for life.  As we journey through life, one can only hope that all the bitter things will become sweet.  I liked that image better than the taste.  Then the “Negative Nancy” in the group piped up, “Well it’s probably the other way around!”  Whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, I hope you manage to finish the drink!


4. MakSoSa 막소사 (Makgeoli + Soju + Cider)

If you are like makgeoli – milky fermented rice wine, you will love this concoction.  It is simple to make.  Fill a makgeoli bowl half full with makgeoli.  Next pour in 1 shot of soju and top the rest with cider.  I haven’t tried MakSoSa before so I can’t say from experience how it tastes.  I think it is probably pretty good.  My hunch is that the soju and cider will dilute the thickness of the makgeoli and it will be very sweet from the sugary drinks.  Next time I am out at a Makgeoli Jib (Makgeoli House), I’ll be sure to taste test this little gem of a cocktail.


5. Tequila + Jagger + Maekju

I have no idea what the name of this mixture is, nor have I ever heard of it.  I was out drinking (coincidently) with some friends last weekend and one of my friends mentioned that her coworker had introduced her to this combination.  First he lined up a tequila shot, followed by a jagger shot, followed by a glass of beer.  He told her she had to shoot the tequila first, then chase it with the jagger shot and then use the beer to wash it all down.  If that’s not a dangerous mix of booze then I don’t know what is.  To me that sounds like a fail proof way to either black out instantly or puke all over the bar.  In either case, it won’t end well.  Amazingly, my friend sucked it up and managed to do it.


6. SoBaekSanMaek 소백산맥 (Soju + Baeksyeju + Sansaju + Maekju)

In university we used to have a party called ‘Red Death’.  ‘Red Death’ was held on the same day as Homecoming and it was a day dedicated to school spirit and getting totally smashed.  We used to trudge off campus to a house where the hosts mixed huge garbage cans full of all sorts of alcohol from the plain, vodka, beer and rum to the fancy, whiskey, cognac, and champagne.  They added in some bottles of cough syrup for good measure and a few packets of red cool aid for color.  Then they topped the whole thing up with water.  Korea has a ‘Red Death’ equivalent called SoBaekSanMaek.  SoBaekSanMaek is a mixture of 4 kinds of alcohol: soju, baeksyeju –a rice and ginseng alcohol, sansaju-a wine made from Chinese Hawthorn berries and beer.  Simply pour one bottle of each into a big jug and start reliving those uni days!  They are back and this time it’s acceptable!



Please add your comments! What do you think of these mixes? Which one is your favorite? Please suggest ones I missed too. Thank you so much for contributing and happy drinking!


Editor’s note: This article was inspired by our weekly poll post “What Korean alcohol is your favorite?”, in our online newsletter.  If you would like to be added to the mailing list please email events@worknplay.co.kr The following is the results from last week.

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Tags : Alcohol. Food. Drink. Nightlife.

Lindsey lived and worked in Seoul, South Korea for over 5 years. While there, she dabbled in different areas of work and explored the culture. She spent time teaching elementary students, business English to adults and high school students about college preparation. She also studied Korean, wrote blogs and tasted as many foods as she possibly could including fermented skate fish. Over the years, Lindsey developed a love for Korea and the culture. She is keen to share her knowledge of Korea with others and she will always consider Korea a second home.