Sake vs Soju vs Shochu – As tourism in Asia becomes more and more popular, this invariably means that the interest in the food and drinks part of the culture will also grow correspondingly. It’s always been a known fact that people connect with others over food and drinks more easily than any other parts of their culture, and this is the same with anyone visiting Asian countries.
Amongst the chief popular drinks items to come from Asian countries, there are none more popular than the globally known sake, shochu, and soju. Each of these drinks are distinct in their own right, and yet they’re commonly placed in the same category by those not quite sure of their make-up and materials.
Sake and shochu are originally produced in Japan, whereas soju, one of the most top-selling liquors in the world by volume, is originally from Korea.
Each of these drinks are created in different ways, and thus the results are three completely different tasting yet equally enjoyable drinks.
Their differences lay in their base ingredient, method of distil or fermentation, length of distil or fermentation, and, most importantly, how they’re meant to be enjoyed.
We’ve listed below some basic information regarding each type of drink as well as how you can maximise your enjoyment of each drink.
Let the battle between Sake vs Soju vs Shochu starts!
What is Sake?
At its core, sake is a brewed alcoholic beverage made from fermented Japanese rice. It is not, however, a rice wine as most people mistaken it for.
The production process of sake starts with polishing rice grains, i.e., removing the outer layer of each grain until only the starchy core remains. The next step is fermenting rice for a few days over the course of which the rice will become alcohol. Once filtered, it is ready to be packaged and sold.
The alcoholic content of most sake tends to stay within the 14%-16% mark, but there are some types which contain 18%-20%. However, unless you’re a sake aficionado, you’ll likely either have experienced only the former.
This is a major difference between sake and shochu and soju, with the latter two containing upwards of 20-30% alcohol in an average bottle.
The look of sake can range between being relatively clear and milky. This depends on whether and how much of the fermented rice is filtered. There are quite a few types of sake, and if you’d like to learn more about these types and how to pick and drink them, head on over to our detailed guide on sake to understand it in depth.
Unlike soju, sake has always been made with rice and only rice. The taste of sake varies depending on the type you consume; however, it can range from being dry to super sweet.
One difference between these three drinks is that Japanese people tend to drink sake alone or as a drink between meals, almost like a palate cleanser. This cannot be said about shochu and soju, where in most cases they are consumed in party and celebratory settings, to let loose and enjoy the moment.
Another key difference between these three drinks is that when enjoying sake, ochoco cups are traditionally used. However, more and more people are trending towards using wine glasses as they’re believed to enhance the flavour and experience of sake.
Soju, on the other hand, is consumed as one quick drink out of a shot glass, and shochu is usually consumed chilled over the rocks.
What is a Soju?
How about introducing Soju with a Hip Hop song?
We think that by now, everyone must have at least heard of soju, the clear alcoholic drink from Korea!
Always present at Korean parties and celebrations, and made super popular around the world by the rise and boom of the Hallyu wave including through k-dramas and k-pop, soju is the life of the party.
Soju was traditionally made from distilling rice, but since the rice shortages during the Korean War, other ingredients such as grains and starches have been used. These include wheat, sweet potatoes and tapioca. Rice is slowly making a comeback to soju though, so it is easy to enjoy a varied range of flavours and aromas.
Soju is always super clear and has a light, sweet, almost always refreshing taste, much like shochu and unlike sake, which is murky and slightly heavier to consume.
Whilst sake is usually consumed as a drink alone, soju has always been historically paired with spicy and fatty foods in Korea, and this has become the trend all over the world as well.
Typical foods eaten with soju include tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew), and samgyeopsal (barbecued korean pork belly). The light and refreshing taste and feel of soju cuts through the greasy and heaviness of the food, cleansing the palate for the next round.
Soju, as you can see, is thus normally served super chilled straight from the fridge to your glass. This adds to the light and refreshing taste of the drink.
This is similar to shochu, which is also normally served super chilled on the rocks, or mixed with a fresh juice. Sake, however, is served cold as often as it is served hot, cold, or room temperature – it really depends on the experience you’re after with sake.
What is Shochu?
Sochu is more similar to soju than it is to sake, being a clear alcoholic drink with around 20-30% alcohol by volume compared to the usual 15% (give or take) of sake. However, unlike the vast plethora of base ingredients that soju may consist of, or the singular rice base ingredient of sake, shochu is most commonly made from either sweet potato, wheat, or rice.
The taste of shochu comes with a bite: imagine a strong alcoholic smell that hits your nose before your tongue tastes it.
Whilst strong additional ingredients are avoided with sake (in saying that, there are some sake variations with many added flavours), soju is the opposite.
With soju, it comes in the original flavour (the most popular flavour) which has the highest alcohol content and thus smells the most alcoholic. It also comes in a wide variety of fun and fruity flavours that mask the alcoholic taste. We highly recommend yakult flavour and strawberry flavour if you’re not a big fan of alcohol!
Shochu is more on the soju spectrum of things, with the popular types having many creative ingredients added during the distilling process to it for a more exciting drink experience. These can include corn, chestnuts, soba, and even miso!
With that being said, shochu has a stricter guideline in terms of additives compared to soju in an attempt to maintain the authenticity of the shochu varieties across Japan.
Because of this, shochu is a highly popular alcoholic ingredient for cocktails. People like to mix it with such things as orange juice and even tea!
Another method of consuming shochu would be to add hot or cold water to your shoshu, roughly in the ratio of 3:2 for shochu to water. This is called mizuwari when served with cold water and ice or oyuwari when mixed with warm water.
Instead, if you’re not drinking soju straight from the shot glass, you’re dropping it into a beer and drinking it as a ‘soju-bomb’.
With sake, it’s simply consumed as is – nice and simple.
The relatively high-alcohol content of shochu but natural sweetener when using such ingredients as sweet potato as its base ingredient means that it is the perfect option for those after the strong hit of alcohol without the hard knock of the alcoholic smell and taste.
Sake vs Soju vs Shochu – They’re So Different!
From reading this, we hope you understand that there are key differences which highlight just how amazing each type of drink is, and how much they are like and unlike each other.
Many people view soju as the predecessor to the shochu drink, and liken them to vodka.
However, from reading the above, you can see that each has their own origin and have come a long way in developing a distinct style and way of lifestyle! From late night barbeque grilling to weekend gatherings, soju and shochu are your obvious choices for a good time.
With sake, you know you’re in for an aptly immersive drinking experience, whether you’re alone or with company.
We hope you enjoy this blog post about Sake vs Soju vs Shochu!
If all of these drinks were at the same party, soju would be the person partying on the table tops and singing on top of their lungs; shochu would be the person flitting from group to group, playing games and dancing the night away; and sake would be the two people sitting in the corner, quietly catching up and just enjoying the mood.