Updated at: 02-08-2023 - By: John Lau

Navigating the world of Asian alcohols can be quite a journey, with Soju and Sake being two major players in the game.

Did you know that Soju is actually the world’s top-selling liquor by volume?

This article aims to guide you through these iconic beverages, offering insights into their distinct differences from alcohol content to brewing processes.

Ready for an intoxicating adventure in Asian liquors? Let’s dive right in!

The Differences Between Soju and Sake

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Soju and sake differ in terms of alcohol content, ingredients, brewing process, and taste profile.

Alcohol content

Diving into the world of traditional Asian drinks, you’ll notice a significant difference in liquor strength between Soju and Sake. Distilled from various starches such as sweet potato or barley, Soju typically has an alcohol by volume (ABV) ranging between 16.8% to 53%, making it smoother and relatively lighter – ideal for those lengthy Korean BBQ nights.

On the other hand, Sake – often referred to as Japanese rice wine – exhibits a higher ABV percentage between 15% to 20%.

Despite its fermented nature which usually implies lower alcohol content, this is not the case with Sake due to special brewing techniques used in its production process.

It’s essential to keep these differences in mind when choosing your poison for the evening!


Soju and sake have distinct differences when it comes to their ingredients. Soju is typically made from a variety of starches, including sweet potatoes and tapioca. It can also be made from rice, wheat, or barley.

On the other hand, sake is solely made from rice and koji mold. This makes sake a purely rice-based drink, while soju has more flexibility in terms of the ingredients used in its production process.

Whether you prefer the unique flavors derived from sweet potatoes or the pure simplicity of rice-based drinks, both soju and sake offer a delightful array of tastes for alcohol enthusiasts to explore.

Brewing process

The brewing process for soju and sake is what sets these two Asian alcoholic beverages apart. Soju, which is predominantly produced in Korea, undergoes a distillation process. It is made by fermenting various starches like sweet potato or tapioca with water and a sweetener.

On the other hand, sake, which hails from Japan, follows a traditional brewing methodSake production involves fermenting rice with koji mold and water to create the smooth rice wine we know and love.

The difference in their brewing processes contributes to variations in taste profiles and alcohol content between soju and sake.

Taste profile

Soju and sake have distinct taste profiles that set them apart from each other. Soju is known for its clean, smooth taste with subtle hints of sweetness. It has a milder flavor compared to sake, making it an easy-drinking choice for many people.

On the other hand, sake offers a more complex and rich flavor profile. It can range from dry to sweet, depending on the type of rice used in the fermentation process. Sake often exudes delicate floral and fruity notes, adding depth to its overall taste experience.

Both soju and sake provide unique drinking experiences due to their different production methods. Soju’s distillation process results in a purer alcohol that allows the underlying flavors of its ingredients to shine through.

This contributes to its smoothness and versatility in cocktails or as a standalone drink. In contrast, sake’s brewing method brings out intricate flavors derived from rice fermentation while maintaining a balanced alcohol content.

How to Drink Soju

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To fully enjoy soju, serve it chilled in small shot glasses and don’t forget to pair it with some delicious Korean barbecue. Curious about the drinking etiquette and more? Keep on reading!

Serving temperature

Soju and sake, two popular alcoholic beverages in Asia, are often enjoyed at different serving temperatures. The serving temperature can greatly impact the taste and overall drinking experience of these drinks.

When it comes to soju, it is traditionally served chilled or on the rocks. This lower alcohol content spirit is best enjoyed when it’s cool, as it helps to mellow out its flavors and smoothness.

Soju is typically served in small shot glasses called “soju cups” or traditional Korean bowls known as “bowls.” By chilling soju before serving, you can enhance its refreshing and crisp qualities.

On the other hand, sake has a wider range of serving temperatures depending on personal preference and the type of sake being consumed. While most people think of warm sake when considering serving options, there are actually three main categories: chilled (reishu), room temperature (jo-on), and warm (kan).

Chilled sake brings out a dry and clean flavor profile while warmer servings tend to highlight more savory notes. It is important to note that premium sakes are usually recommended to be consumed slightly chilled in order to preserve their delicate flavors.


Soju and sake have their own distinct glassware that is often used when enjoying these traditional Asian drinks. When it comes to soju, it is typically served in small shot glasses, similar to the ones used for vodka or other clear spirits.

This allows you to savor its smooth taste and appreciate its subtle flavors. On the other hand, sake is traditionally served in small ceramic cups called ochoko or porcelain cups known as sakazuki.

These cups are designed to enhance the aroma and flavor of the sake, allowing you to fully enjoy this delicate rice wine.

Whether you choose a shot glass for soju or a traditional cup for sake, the right glassware can elevate your drinking experience and make it even more enjoyable.

Drinking etiquette

Drinking etiquette is an important part of enjoying Soju and Sake in the traditional Asian way. Here are some tips to follow when indulging in these alcoholic beverages:

  1. Respectful pouring: When pouring Soju or Sake for yourself or others, it is customary to hold the bottle with both hands as a sign of respect.
  2. Sharing customs: In Korean culture, it is common to pour drinks for others instead of pouring your own. This gesture symbolizes camaraderie and friendship.
  3. Toasting customs: Before taking a sip, it is polite to raise your glass and make eye contact with those around you. It is also customary to clink glasses together lightly while saying “cheers” or “kampai!”
  4. Sipping slowly: Soju and Sake are meant to be enjoyed slowly rather than gulped down quickly. Take small sips and savor the flavors of these traditional Asian spirits.
  5. Refilling etiquette: In Korean culture, it is considered rude for someone to refill their own glass. Instead, offer to refill the glasses of others at the table, and they will likely return the favor.
  6. Accepting refills: If someone offers to refill your glass, it is polite to accept the drink graciously by holding your glass with both hands while they pour.
  7. Pace yourself: Drinking Soju or Sake at a leisurely pace shows respect for the beverage and helps maintain a pleasant drinking experience.
  8. Express appreciation: Throughout the gathering, express gratitude by saying “thank you” or “arigato” (in Japanese) when someone pours you a drink or offers a refill.

How to Drink Sake

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To fully enjoy sake, it is important to serve it at the appropriate temperature, use the right glassware, and follow traditional drinking etiquette.

Serving temperature

When it comes to serving temperature, both soju and sake have their own preferences. Soju is typically enjoyed chilled or at room temperature. It can be served straight from the freezer or on the rocks for a refreshing experience.

On the other hand, sake is traditionally served warm or at room temperature. Heating sake brings out its flavors and aromas, enhancing the overall taste profile. Some premium sakes are best served slightly chilled to maintain their delicate balance of flavors.

Whether you prefer your drink cold or warmed up, finding the right serving temperature can enhance your drinking experience and bring out the unique characteristics of each beverage.


When it comes to enjoying soju and sake, the choice of glassware can enhance your drinking experience. For soju, traditional Korean liquor glasses are often used. These small glasses come in various shapes but are typically designed to hold a single shot of soju.

The narrow opening allows for easy sipping and lets you appreciate the aroma of the drink. On the other hand, sake is traditionally drunk from small ceramic cups called ochoko or porcelain cups known as sakazuki.

These cups are often shared among friends during social gatherings and celebrations. The delicate design of these cups adds elegance to the ritual of enjoying sake. Whether you prefer the simplicity of soju glasses or the beauty of sake cups, choosing the right glassware can elevate your appreciation for these Asian spirits.

Drinking etiquette

Drinking etiquette is an important aspect of enjoying Soju and Sake. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Respectful pouring: When pouring Soju or Sake for others, it is considered polite to hold the bottle with two hands and pour into their glass. This gesture shows respect and appreciation.
  • Toasting: It is customary to make a toast before taking the first sip. Raise your glass and say “Kampai!” in Japan or “Gunbae!” in Korea. Remember to make eye contact with everyone at the table while toasting.
  • Drinking pace: In both Japanese and Korean cultures, it is common to take turns serving each other and drinking together as a group. Pace yourself accordingly and wait for others to finish their drink before refilling their glass.
  • Proper holding of glasses: Hold your Soju glass or Sake cup by the base or stem rather than the rim. This ensures that the drink stays at its optimal temperature longer and prevents unnecessary spills.
  • Respectful refilling: If someone offers to refill your glass, it is considered respectful to accept graciously. However, if you do not wish for another drink, simply cover your glass with your hand as a polite gesture of refusal.
  • Sipping etiquette: Rather than taking big gulps, it is customary to take small sips when enjoying Soju or Sake. This allows you to appreciate the subtle flavors and enjoy the drink more mindfully.


When it comes to the battle of Soju Vs Sake, both have their own unique characteristics and cultural significance.

Soju, with its lower alcohol content and smooth taste, is a popular choice for socializing in Korea.

On the other hand, sake, with its rich history and traditional brewing process, holds a special place in Japanese drinking culture.

Whether you prefer the distilled spirit of soju or the fermented elegance of sake, both offer a delightful experience for those seeking to explore Asian liquor traditions.