Soju and Sake have both taken the world by storm and are quickly becoming two of the most popular alcoholic beverages anywhere. 

However, at first glance, these Korean and Japanese drinks might seem pretty similar. Both tend to be a pale or even clear liquid, they have similar alcohol concentrations, and both can be made from rice. 

But, like their countries of origin, these drinks are far from the same and there are some important differences you should know if you’re going to be drinking or cooking with sake or soju. 

Here’s a quick table of some of the differences:

FlavorVery mild, slightly sweet, may have fruity or floral notes, may not. Sweeter and thicker, sake also tends to have stronger fruity notes. 
Alcohol content16.8-24%16%
Primary IngredientsRice, barley, wheat, potatoes, or tapioca. Rice, koji yeast. 

What is Soju

Soju is a popular Korean drink often compared with vodka in terms of its appearance and taste. Of course, most soju is much lower in alcohol content, only 16.8-24% instead of 40%, but that can actually be a good thing in a lot of drinks and cocktails. 

Soju can be drunk on its own, or mixed with other ingredients. It’s popular for both thanks to its mild flavor and the fact that it doesn’t taste as strongly of alcohol as comparable drinks. 

It’s also a better mixer for people who enjoy drinking for the taste and flavor combinations but aren’t looking for high alcohol content or a quick buzz. 

Different Types of Soju

There are a lot of different types of soju, but it’s not like other beverages where the specific type of grain being used or other details are used to differentiate the drink. 

Typically, the different types of soju are either based on the alcoholic content of the drink, whether it’s been flavored or not and occasionally what grains or blend of grains and starches were used in the fermentation. 

There area lot of different ways to make great soju, and sometimes different ingredients are used in the base to help make it easier to flavor later on. 

In South Korea, flavored soju is incredibly common, and flavors can range from coffee to mango, to apple, plum, honey, and even ginger. 

How Is Soju Made? 

You can make soju at home if you have the right ingredients and tools, but since this is a distilled beverage there may be local laws regarding the use of a still, maximum final alcoholic content, or even making distilling drinks entirely illegal. 

The first step in making soju is getting the blend of grain starches you want to use. You can use just rice, a combination of rice and other grains like wheat and barley, or even add potatoes to the mix. You can also make soju without rice. It’s all down to your taste, what’s available, and what works for you. 

Traditional soju is made by combining wheat and water to make a grain cake and letting that ferment. Next, you’d steam white rice till fully cooked, then allow the rice to cool. Then, you’ll combine the fermenting wheat mash with the rice, add water, and then put the combination in a brewing vessel to brew. 

12-15 days are standard fermenting time. From there, you strain the liquid, called makgeolli, which can also be drunk. But to make soju, you aren’t done yes. The next steps include letting the liquid separate into two layers, siphoning off the clear layer of the liquid, and distilling that to make soju. 

Soju often also has sugar and flavoring to the drink and may dilute the beverage with water to reduce its alcohol concentration. 

Delicious Soju Cocktail Ingredients

Rather than focusing on soju ingredients themselves, especially since making soju is a relatively complicated process, here are some potential cocktail ingredients to play with. 

Green tea and iced tea are both popular, as are most fruit juices or purees. Pineapple, watermelon, mango, and strawberry all work well as soju cocktail additions. You can even mix yogurt with soju for a thicker drink or a shake cocktail. 

Most sodas mix well with soju, and soju and beer are a common combination in South Korea. 

Great Soju Recipes You Should Try

If you want to try making something with soju you aren’t alone! Fortunately, we have some recipes you can try from the comfort of your own home. 

First up, apple and soju are a refreshing combination, and Food Network’s recipe for an apple soju cocktail is delicious as well! 

Want something a little more unique? Why not try The Spruce Eats recipe for a Korean Yogurt and Soju cocktail

What Is Sake?

Sake is a popular and important drink in an out of Japan, also sometimes called rice wine. Sake is made from fermented rice and water, but it can also be a lot more than that, leading to a huge variety in flavors and types of sake. 

Sake can be drunk cold or warmed, on its own, or in a cocktail, and ranges from a light but dry wine to a rich and fruity dessert wine. 

Different Styles Of Sake 

There are a lot of different kinds of sake, from traditional sake preparations to modern varieties that are flavored, sweetened, or even mixed with other drinks. 

There are five main kinds of sake, Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu, and Namazake. Each of these types refers to a brewing method, which results in different concentrations of alcohol and slightly different flavors and textures in the finished sake. 

They also refer to how much of the outer layer of the rice grain is included in the mix, and whether brewer’s alcohol is added. How much sugar or other starches are added also influences the type. 

Junmai has no brewer’s alcohol, added sugar, or added starch, and always lists the amount of milled rice used on the label. 

Ginjo on the other hand uses a combination of whole and milled rice and is usually served cold. 

Unlike the other types, Namazake is less about the rice used and whether it’s been milled, and instead refers to whether the sake has been pasteurized. Namazake is unpasteurized, and any of the other types of sake can also be Namazake. 

Another common way to tell different kinds of sake apart is based on the yeast or other fungi used in the creation of the sake, which can also change the color of the drink and influence the flavors. 

How is Sake Made? 

Sake is made by combining rice with water and specific yeasts and sometimes other fungi, which convert the starches in the rice into sugar for the yeast to turn into alcohol. 

The rice must be washed, soaked, steamed, and then cooled before being made into sake. The specific koji any sake producer uses is also often created by the brewery, in a cedar-lined room, which allows the brewer to control the inoculation process as well as what types of koji are present in the sake. 

Once the rice and koji are prepared, the next step is fermentation. Rice, water, and koji are combined in a 4-day process, and then allowed to ferment for an additional 21 days or so, at a highly controlled temperature. Sake is mixed by hand every day of the brewing process, which also involves taste tests and chemistry tests to ensure the sake meets specific standards. 

Sake Cocktail Ingredients To Try

Sake is a versatile drink, which can be used to make everything from classic Bloody Mary cocktails to fruity cocktails, or even complicated drinks with different kinds of alcohol. 

We’d recommend trying fresh fruit to make a sake sangria, ginger, lychee, and other Asian spices also work well. 

Sake and simple syrup are a good base for adding just about any fruit juice or herby mix, and sake, like soju, mixes well with most sodas. 

Top Sake Recipes You’re Sure To Love

Serious Eats has a fantastic recipe for a beginner-friendly Sake and Strawberry cocktail. Or you can go a little more formal with For Goodness Sake, a sake and ginger cocktail created by Gastronom Cocktails. 

Wrapping Up: What are the key differences between Soju and Sake? 

There are a ton of differences between soju and sake, starting from the ingredients and yeasts used to create each drink, to the brewing process. 

Here are a few of the highlights: 

  • Sake tends to have a lower alcohol content. 
  • Soju has a wide range of potential alcohol content, while sake tends to be closely controlled to produce a narrow range of alcohol concentrations. 
  • Sake tends to be sweeter and fruitier than soju.
  • Soju is distilled after fermentation, sake is not. 
  • While both soju and sake can be made from rice, sake is made exclusively from rice, while soju usually uses a combination of wheat and rice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Are Soju and Sake the same thing? 

No. Sake is a fermentation of rice, koji (a type of yeast), and water. Fruit can be added at various points in the process, and sugar or the drink may be sweetened after brewing. 

Soju is also made from fermented grains but doesn’t exclusively use rice. Wheat and barley may also be used, and sometimes sweet potatoes or tapioca. 

Another big difference is that sake is just fermented, while soju is first fermented, and then distilled. 

Q2: Which is better for you, Soju or Sake? 

Strictly speaking, alcohol is almost never good for you. However, sake and soju both have a wide variety of micronutrients, and sake has a high percentage of amino acids that can it be slightly more nutritious compared with other alcohols. 

Chronic alcohol consumption is never a good thing. It’s also important to make sure you have a balanced diet and are well-hydrated if you plan on drinking. 

Q3: What does Soju taste like?

Soju is similar to vodka in that unflavored soju doesn’t have much of its own flavor. It’s a neutral spirit, but it does have a thicker texture. Soju also has less alcohol bite than vodka. 

Q4: Dose Soju taste better than Sake? 

Not necessarily. It depends on your personal taste and how strong you prefer your alcohol to be. Both soju and sake are on the sweeter side, but sake tends to have more fruity flavors. Yes, even plain sake. Sake also tastes of alcohol a bit more than soju. 

Meanwhile, Soju is a milder-tasting spirit, but stronger. Both of these drinks have a distinct and thick mouthfeel, which can contribute to the enjoyment of both drinks.

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