The popularity of soju in Korea is unlike anything I’ve seen before. You’ll find its distinctive green bottles at every convenience store, on the table at every Korean restaurant, and resting beside a passed out Korean on almost every street corner.
If you ask me, soju tastes a lot like watered down vodka, and its original “flavours” are pretty hard to swallow. It is also pretty lethal stuff which famously gives you an awful hangover.
But there’s a reason it’s so popular with Koreans and foreigners alike. Soju is strong (about 13%), incredibly cheap (a bottle costs about £1/$1.50) and super fun to try while you’re here. It’s all about embracing the local culture, right?
Thankfully, there are a variety of different flavours to try too – some of which taste better than others. I ventured out to buy as many varieties I could find – there were 8 in total – and got some friends together to carry out a very scientific and not at all tipsy taste test. Here is the definitive ranking of all the the soju varieties I could get my hands on, from worst to best.
The classic. The original. The horrific. This “fresh” soju seems to be the most popular variety in restaurants and we have no idea why.
It’s strong. It’s sharp. It’s not for me, I’m afraid.
Natalie: “Unlike other sojus, you actually feel like you’re drinking alcohol.”
This “blueberry” is clearly having some sort of identity crisis because it tastes overwhelmingly of grape, a popular flavour in Korea and seemingly nowhere else.
Blueberry soju is, to put it bluntly, not very nice. It’s drinkable but only in small quantities.
Sisa: “It’s like drinking perfume.”
And here we have the real, less fraudulent grape flavour. Somehow, it tastes better than the confused blueberry, though still a lot like grape.
It does what it says on the tin, I suppose.
Jamie: “It tastes like your Nan’s bubble bath.”
Let me just get into my connoisseur mode… the overwhelming aromas of pomegranate soju are soap, artificial sweeteners and Starburst. Hardly a dream combo, but for a soju, pomegranate isn’t too bad.
Although, it does get worse the more you drink it.
Sisa: “It tastes like kids’ medication.”
Wow. What a drink. I can’t fault it. Tropical “soju” tastes like a summer’s day. Is there even any alcohol in it?
Basically no – it’s only 5%. This is more of an honourable mention. But, if you’re ever looking for a refreshing, fruity drink (and don’t want to get smashed), then this is the one for you.
Back to the grown-up drinks. When you open this bottle, you are hit with a delicious fruity smell that might fool you into chugging the whole thing. I would recommend against this.
The flavour is sweet and appealing, but the alcoholic aftertaste hits you like a tonne of bricks at the end of each shot. It’s good, but it’s strong.
Jamie: “This one will eventually make you vomit.”
Before I came to Korea, grapefruit was recommended to me as the best soju flavour, and now I know why. The tangy and sharp grapefruit does a pretty good job at concealing the strong alcoholic taste.
This soju is also sold at pretty much every convenience store – often as the only alternative soju flavour. The Koreans clearly like this one too.
Jamie: “A classic: the best flavour you can find anywhere.”
This is the first time I ever tried peach soju as I’ve never actually seen it in a regular convenience store. But, I can confidently say it’s changed my life for the better.
This soju can only be described as a taste sensation (as long as you like peach.) Despite being just as strong as regular soju, the alcoholic taste is minimal. I could drink this all day long.
Natalie: “It’s hard to find, but so worth it when you do.”
And there you have it. The best and worst of all the soju flavours (that Homeplus had to offer.) Now please excuse me while I drink lots of water and take a very long nap.