When traveling to a foreign country, there are several things that visitors focus on: the sites they want to see, the experiences they want to have, and the food that they want to try. However, when visiting South Korea, you should definitely come with a list of drinks that you want to try as well.
There are many wonderful and different drinks available throughout the country, and coming to Korea without trying some would be a wasted opportunity to give your taste buds a little variety.
Here are my top 5 suggestions of drinks to try in Korea.
Soju is by far the most popular liquor in Korea and could be compared to Vodka in Russia for its social impact. Go to any restaurant or bar at dinner time, and you are likely to see a group of businessmen sitting around a table with several empty bottles of soju around them (Of course, I’ve also seen this same scene at 9am when I’m walking to work, so it’s not just at dinner time).
Soju is tradionally brewed from rice, but most of the modern brands include fillers from other starches like potatoes, wheat, or even tapioca. The cost of a bottle of soju rivals that of a bottle of beer (only about $1-3 US per 330ml bottle), and is more than enough to get all but the most resilient plastered.
Be warned though, Soju may not taste like much, but it hits you really, really quickly if you aren’t careful.
Milkis is one of the most interesting soft drinks that you are likely to ever try. Made with all of the usual soft drink ingredients (corn syrup, carbonated water, and sugar), it also includes milk.
This creamy tasting beverage is actually much better than I anticipated, and there’s something about the milk that makes it really quite good.
Milkis is available in several fruit flavors, but is most often seen in the classic flavor pictured on the left.
Advertising itself as the “New Feeling of Soda Beverage”, Milkis is something that needs to be tried to be appreciated.
Makgeolli, also known as makkoli or Korean rice wine, is a milky-colored wine brewed from rice. Available in almost every store in the country and cheaper than soju, it has quickly become a favorite of Koreans and expats alike.
Makgeolli is a very smooth drink, similar to milk in both color and texture, that has a relatively low alcohol levels (6-8%), which has led to its popularity at dining establishments.
Makgeolli is frequently served with pajeon, a vegetable and seafood pancake, or Korean barbecue. It is also becoming more and more common to see “Makgeolli houses” that specialize in one or more types of the rice wine.
If you have a chance to go to a Makgeolli house, make sure to take it. One of my favorite Korean experiences is sitting in one, drinking makgeolli from a bowl and eating pajeon.
Makgeolli wins my vote for best Korean alcoholic drink. I definitely recommend trying it if you have the chance.
Aloe Vera Juice
This juice must be one of the most interesting ones in the Korean market. Essentially, it’s aloe vera flavored juice that includes chunks of aloe vera pulp for good measure.
The aloe vera pulp has a very jelly-like consistancy that quite frankly weirds me out. However I’ve known several people who were very fond of the drink.
The green-colored bottles can be found in nearly every store in the country.
It’s worth trying just for the odd consistency of the aloe pulp, and who knows, you might even like it.
OB Golden Lager
Others might disagree with me, but in my opinion the best of the Korean beers is OB Golden Lager. Coming in a bright gold can that proudly proclaims “100% German Hop and Golden Malt”, I actually find this beer to be pretty good.
Like all other Korean beers, OB Golden Lager uses rice instead of wheat for the fermentable starch. This gives it a taste that is somewhat distinct from western produced beers.
Other Korean beer brands include the much more popular Cass, Hite, and Max, but don’t expect these to be anything exciting to write home about.
Do you have a favorite Korean drink that I didn’t mention? Have you visited a country that has a drink that everyone should try? Let us know in the comments section below.
Jim Cheney is the creator of Tripologist.com. Having traveled extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia, Jim enjoys sharing his love of travel and some of his favorite places to visit around the world. He lives in Pennsylvania, USA, with his wife and two kids.