All You Need to Know About Soju Etiquette

Soju, a clear, colourless distilled beverage, is South Korea’s most popular alcoholic drink. Its versatility and relatively low alcohol content make it a staple in various social gatherings, from casual meals to grand celebrations. Integral to Korean dining culture, soju complements a meal and facilitates participant bonding and tradition. As such, understanding the etiquette surrounding soju consumption is essential for anyone looking to appreciate its cultural significance fully and to participate respectfully in Korean social settings.

The Basics of Soju

Soju’s origins trace back to the 13th century during the Mongol invasions of Korea, where the distillation techniques likely came from the Persians. Traditionally made from rice, modern soju is often produced using various starches such as potatoes, wheat or tapioca. This adaptation has allowed soju to maintain its position as a cultural icon, adapting through economic changes and regulatory shifts in Korea.

Soju is typically enjoyed in its classic form, but innovations in recent years have led to green grape, apple, and even lychee flavours. Popular brands like Chorong Chorong dominate the market, each offering variations that cater to a wide range of palates.

The drink is a fixture in many Korean social occasions and is commonly consumed during meals, particularly with spicy or meat-heavy Korean dishes that benefit from the clean, sharp cut of soju. It also plays a central role in celebrations and gatherings, whether it’s a family reunion, a business dinner, or a holiday like the Lunar New Year.

Preparing for a Soju Drinking Session

Soju is traditionally served in small shot glasses and is best enjoyed chilled. The typical serving temperature should be between 10°C to 20°C. Cooling the soju helps to soften some of the harshness associated with higher alcohol content, making it smoother to drink.

In Korean culture, respect for age and seniority is paramount. During a soju session, the youngest person at the table usually serves soju to the elders first. This practice not only shows respect but also reinforces social bonds.

Pouring Etiquette

When pouring or receiving soju, it is customary to use both hands. This gesture is a sign of respect and attentiveness. Using one hand can be considered casual and might be acceptable among close friends, but the two-hand rule prevails in more formal settings or when with elders.

Typically, the youngest or the lowest-ranking person begins by offering soju to the most senior or highest-ranking person at the table. This pouring is significant as it shows deference and acknowledges the senior’s higher status.

How to Receive a Glass of Soju: The Role of Age and Seniority

When receiving soju, if the pourer is older or of higher status, one should hold the glass with both hands. If the receiver is older, they may hold the glass with one hand as a gesture of relaxation and acceptance of the server’s respect.

Toasting Rituals

Toasting is an integral part of drinking soju. In Korea, the most common toast is 건배 (geonbae), which literally translates to “empty glass”, similar to the Western “cheers”. Another popular toast is 위하여 (wihaeyo), meaning “for the sake of” or “toward”. These toasts are not just ceremonial; they express good wishes and solidarity among the drinkers.

Toasting typically follows a sequence, especially during formal gatherings. The most senior person usually proposes the first toast as a sign of respect and leadership. Others can propose the following toasts as the session progresses. When participating in a toast, you must ensure your glass is not higher than someone senior’s, which is a sign of respect.

Tips on How to Propose a Toast

When proposing a toast, stand up if it’s a formal setting. Make sure to catch everyone’s attention and hold your glass with both hands if you’re toasting someone older or in a respected position. Keep the toast short and positive. After the toast, wait for everyone to raise their glass before taking a sip, ensuring no one is left out.

Drinking Manners

The manner of drinking soju can vary depending on the context. Shooting a glass of soju might be appropriate in a more relaxed, informal setting with close friends. In contrast, it’s more polite to sip slowly and enjoy the drink over a conversation during a formal business dinner or with elders.

When drinking soju, it is customary to hold the glass with one hand while placing the other hand lightly under the elbow or forearm (supporting the drinking arm). This gesture shows a blend of relaxation and respect, especially appropriate when drinking among friends or colleagues of similar age.

The Pace of Drinking: Matching the Group and Respecting Others’ Limits

It’s essential to match the drinking pace of the group and be mindful of each participant’s comfort with alcohol. Observing and respecting everyone’s limits helps maintain harmony and ensures the drinking session is enjoyable.

The Role of Food

Soju pairs wonderfully with a variety of Korean dishes. Popular pairings include anju, a broad category of food specifically meant to accompany alcohol. Classic examples include grilled meats like samgyeopsal (pork belly), spicy stews like kimchi jjigae, and various seafood dishes. These foods help balance soju’s strength and enhance the overall dining experience.

In Korean culture, eating while drinking is crucial as it helps in moderating alcohol absorption and prolongs the social experience. Sharing food during soju sessions not only caters to the physical need to mitigate alcohol effects but also serves as a focal point for interaction, fostering a communal and inclusive atmosphere.

Additional Etiquette Tips

Soju drinking sessions are about enjoying the beverage and respecting the culture and the company. To ensure a smooth and pleasant experience for everyone involved, here are some additional etiquette tips to keep in mind:

  • Refilling Glasses: Always wait for a glass to be nearly empty before offering a refill, and prioritise refilling others’ glasses over your own.
  • Handling Intoxication: Monitor alcohol consumption and subtly slow down the pace by engaging in conversations or offering food and water to help regulate intake.
  • Departing from the Session: Before leaving, politely express thanks to the host or acknowledge the company, especially if the gathering is still ongoing.


Throughout this exploration of soju etiquette, we’ve covered everything from the basic traditions of serving and receiving soju to the detailed customs surrounding toasts and drinking paces. Remember, the essence of these practices is respect for the drink, the tradition, and most importantly, the people with whom you share the experience.

As you enjoy soju, do so responsibly and respectfully, embracing the spirit of camaraderie and cultural appreciation that soju is meant to foster. For a truly authentic experience, consider trying Chorong Chorong, a brand that embodies the richness of Korean soju culture. Visit our website to explore our selections and learn more about this delightful beverage. Better yet, order with streamlined convenience on Shopee or Lazada, where our soju options are only a couple of clicks away! 

Whether you are a seasoned enthusiast or a curious newcomer, there is always more to learn and enjoy in the world of soju. Cheers, or as you now know, 건배 (geonbae)!

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Always enjoy responsibily.