Difference Between Sake and Soju

Difference Between Sake and Soju

We can all agree that each culture has a unique cuisine that won’t be complete without good liquor. Many Asian dishes are hard to imagine without the company of sake and soju that complement the bright palette of these dishes.

You’ve definitely heard of these names at least once. They are bright landmarks of the Japanese and Korean cultures. Still, people tend to confuse them. The difference between sake and soju is quite significant though, and these two drinks are not the same.  

So, dear readers, stay tuned. Today we are going to solve this sake vs soju dilemma. 

Let’s begin!

What is Sake?

Sake is a traditional Japanese alcoholic drink made of fragmented rice. That’s why it is also known as rice wine. However, sake goes through a more complicated brewing process than a simple wine and also has a different taste. 

This beverage is highly appreciated in Japan, and October 1st is even considered a sake day. There are also some special traditions for drinking sake and we’ll talk about them later.

Sake vs Soju


The tradition of brewing sake has its roots back in the past. It’s hard to define the exact date. However, it is believed that the production started around 500 B.C. in China. It happened even before written history. That’s a wow, right? 

At first, the preparation process was quite primitive. People even used saliva to initiate the fermentation process due to the lack of more advanced technology at that time. 

Later on, the enzyme koji came into use and this rice brewing method spread across Japan. Sake worked its way to become what we know it today during the following centuries.

Types of Sake

Even though the main ingredient of the sake is fermented rice, there are still many types of this drink that have to be mentioned. This categorization is based on the type of rice, brewing techniques, degree of polishing and so on. 

By the way, the term “polishing” means removing the outer layer of each rice grain. It is a very thorough process that influences the taste of sake. The lower the polishing percentage, the better quality and the higher the price. 

Let’s have a look at some of the most common types of this Japanese drink. 

Japannese sake


Junmai is pure sake, since it doesn’t have any additional components, such as alcohol or sugar. It consists only of rice, water, yeast, and koji. Thus, the flavour is rich and intense.


The rice in ginjo is usually polished up to 60%. Given the special fermentation methods and particular yeast, ginjo is rather smooth with a fruity flavour. 

This one can also be considered pure sake since there are no other products added. The preparation method is what matters here. 


Having no extra ingredients, daiginjo is also pure sake. It’s quite pricey too. 

With the rice being polished up to 50% and special brewing techniques, it is truly a premium drink. You should try it at least once, to enjoy a well-balanced blend of flavours. 

What is Soju

Soju is a traditional Korean drink. It is a distilled beverage that has no colour and is mostly made of rice, barley or wheat. It underwent lots of development stages that shaped its moderate, a bit bitter taste and smooth texture. 

People highly appreciate this drink in South Korea, that’s a sure thing. But we believe that soju lovers can be found almost everywhere in the world.

Difference between sake and soju


The soju distillation tradition dates back to the 14th century. The technique itself is of Persian origin. The Mongols introduced it to the Korean locals. The soju evolution was quite twisted as there were a lot of crucial historical events that altered it.

For instance, in the 1960s, shortly after the Korean War and significant rice shortages it was prohibited to use rice for alcohol distillation. That’s why, people made soju even from sweet potatoes, wheat and barley. 

But in the 1990s the situation changed and it was allowed to use rice for pre-ban purposes. Thus, soju gradually developed its current taste and form.     

Types of Soju

As we’ve mentioned before, soju is mostly distilled and bottled right afterwards. It can also be diluted, meaning that some amount of water is added to the final product. 

Besides, if the soju is flavoured, it’s used for cocktails. However, there are some more popular soju types that we have to mention. So, let’s see what we’ve got here. 

Korean soju

Chamisul Soju

This soju type is considered to be a classic. Distilled from sweet potatoes, it has an intense flavour with a slight bitterness. 

Chamisul soju is widely spread in South Korea and other countries too. If you’ve just begun your soju journey, it is a great traditional option for you to start with.

Good Day Soju

The biggest perk of the Good Day soju is the water used for the preparation process. It is taken directly from the iconic Jiri Mountain. Since this water is very clean and the rice is used in the preparation process, soju has a mild, well–balanced taste.

Chum Churum Soju

The Chum Churum soju can offer more than just a very cute name. This drink is made using rice and some other grains. It is why, Chum Churum is not as bitter as some other soju types. 

So, if you’re not ready for more intense flavour, this milder beverage is right for you.

The main difference between sake and soju

Now that we know so many facts and details, we can finally summarise what’s the difference between sake and soju. Perhaps, you traced some of the distinctive features while reading the above passages. However, jump to the following section to clear this out. 

Sake and soju difference

1. Production 

Sake is produced using the fermentation process. It has to do with polished rice, yeast, water, and koji. The preparation consists of multiple steps to get sugar out of the rice and then turn it into an alcoholic drink. 

This beverage is sometimes compared to wine, but the brewing of the sake is somewhat more complex.

Soju, on the contrary,  is made using the distillation technique. It is what makes the drink so clear and strong. There are some rare occasions when fermentation is used as a first step and then the given mixture is distilled into soju. However, distillation is more common for this beverage.

2. Ingredients

The traditional sake ingredients are rice, water, yeast, and koji. Sometimes there may be some extra ingredients for adding more flavour, but the mentioned four create the basis.

And soju, as we know, is mostly distilled from rice. However, not only rice is used. Such ingredients as wheat, barley, or sweet potatoes are all common soju components. These may be distilled individually, as well as in combination with one another.  

3. Taste

Soju is more neutral in taste, with a slight bitterness and a smooth texture. It gives way to countless flavoured varieties of the drink. 

Sake, on the other hand, is milder and may have subtle herbal or floral taste colourings. It also tastes a bit creamy, so people rarely call it a rice wine.

4. Alcohol content

Alcohol content makes a great distinction in the sake vs soju battle. 

Soju is a stronger beverage, containing from 17% to 53% of alcohol. It is why, soju with a lower alcohol level is mostly found in different drinks and cocktails. People usually enjoy the high alcohol content soju individually.

Sake, on the other hand, is not as strong. It contains from 15% to 22% of alcohol. The 16% sake is, perhaps, the most common. And people drink it as is, without any other ingredients added.

5. Drinking tradition

Sake is an integral part of ceremonies and official events. It’s usually served cold or at room temperature. There are some special cups to drink sake, like choko or sakazuki. 

Japanese sake and Korean soju

You should also remember that it’s inappropriate to pour yourself a drink. As tradition says, someone has to do it for you and you are to return the favour by pouring sake for someone else during the evening.

In most cases, soju is served neat and cooled. However, it can be an ingredient in some cocktails, as we’ve already mentioned. Koreans call this mixture of soju and juice, beer, or soda, a soju bomb. That’s intriguing, to say the least.

Besides, you shouldn’t empty your glass to the bottom while drinking in the company. It may serve as a sign to pour you some more soju. Just a little tip to remember.

And that would be it for today! We’ve explored lots of facts and defined a clear difference between sake and soju. 

Now you’ll never doubt how to answer the question: “Is soju and sake the same thing?” You can dive even deeper into the cultural background of these drinks and have a wonderful time trying them yourself.