Busan: A Guide to South Korean Rice Wine Soju

Psy Snoop Dogg Music Video Screengrab - H 2014

Psy Snoop Dogg Music Video Screengrab - H 2014

"Talking about movies all night long over a bottle of soju on Haeundae Beach, there's nothing quite like it in the world," says Busan festival founder and chairman Kim Dong-ho.

Busan is a festival for insomniacs. For one week in October, the entire city is bustling with cineastes and festival-goers drinking into the wee hours. "Talking about movies all night long over a bottle of soju on Haeundae Beach, there's nothing quite like it in the world. It's what makes Busan a festival that never sleeps," says the festival's founder and chairman Kim Dong-ho.

To the uninitiated, soju, the distinctive rice wine that is Korea's national drink and a key feature of the Psy and Snoop Dogg song "Hangover," can seem bewildering in its variety and various strengths. THR has put together this handy guide to make sure you pick the right soju to take the edge off those long festival nights. 

Hite-Jinro's Chamisul

This classic staple continues to dominate over half of the market share for soju, according to Consumer Insight. It comes in that iconic green bottle that has become all-too-familiar for even non-Koreans (think Psy's music video for "Hangover" featuring Snoop Dogg), and is imported to over 30 countries worldwide. Chamisul boasts an ABV of 17.8 percent and is much loved for its fresh, clean taste.

Lotte Chilsung Beverage's Sunhari Cheoum-Cheorum

This fruity cocktail forever changed the landscape of the local soju market since launching last year. The light, aromatic citron flavor makes it hard to believe that there is any alcohol in there. Don't be deceived by its sweetness, however; it has an alcohol content of 14 percent. Busan's very own, Good Day by local manufacturer Daesun, also released an array of fruity-scented soju.

Hallasan Soju Corp.'s Hallasan

Hallasan is South Korea's highest mountain located on the scenic Jeju Island, the local equivalent of Hawaii off the south coast of the Korean Peninsula. It's essentially a shield volcano with natural springs. Hallasan soju is known for being made with natural aquifer water from 80 meters beneath the volcano, for a slightly higher alcohol percentage of 22. It dominates about 90 percent of the Jeju soju market.

Hwayo's Hwayo

Most soju familiar to most are the highly affordable kind that comes in green bottles. But little do even Koreans know that this is a recent, early 20th-century invention, which is basically diluted ethyl alcohol with a pinch of flavoring. Original time-honored soju, however, follows a strictly observed fermentation, ripening and distillation process, and Hwayo has been credited for mass producing such refined drinks that have traditionally been only available through provincial distilleries. Hwayo has a deep, refined flavor and clean after-taste and is available in different ABV levels ranging from 17 to 53 percent.