Korean Soju is World’s Most Popular Spirit

Lee Hyori drinks soju, so should you.

A brand of soju, South Korea’s tipple of choice, has topped a worldwide ranking of most-sold spirits, beating vodka, whisky and brandy to remain the most-drunk spirit in the world.

Not only was soju number one, it was also number three. Jinro‘s Chamisul maintained its position in the top spot with Lotte’s Chum-churum coming a close third, losing out on second place to some pesky vodka.

From Chosun:

[Top 20 Global Spirits:] Korean Soju ranks an embarrassing first place

The two largest Korean soju brands took the first and third places in the world spirits rank.

Soju ranks first and third place in the global spirits sales rankings of 180 brands. The amount of soju sold is 5 times that of Johnnie Walker [Whiskey].

The two top Korean soju brands Chamisul and Chum-Churum took first and third place respectively in the rank of spirits sold around the world. Chamisul has topped the list ever since 2001 and Chum-Churum has been in the third place ever since 2007. Since soju is mostly sold in Korea, it’s surprising that it’s beaten vodka, whisky and rum which are sold around the world, to top the rankings for the 12th year so far.

Alcohol-specialist magazine Drinks International with international survey specialist Euromonitor International produced the sales ranking of 180 international spirits brands from last year’s sales. At the top of the list (known as the Millionaires Club) was Jinro soju, 61,380,000 boxes (9L per case) sold, which is far ahead and nearly 2.5 times that of American [sic] vodka brand Smirnoff, 24,700,000 cases. Chum-Churum from Lotte Liquor was ranked in the third place with 23,900,000 cases sold, at a small difference to Smirnoff.

Adding the sales volumes of Jinro and Lotte Liquor together gives 85,280,000 cases, which is 5 times that of Johnnie Walker (18,000,000 cases), a familiar whisky brand. This was beyond compare to the sales of other spirits well-known in Korea, such as the Swedish vodka Absolut (16th place with 11,210,000 cases) and American Whiskey Jack Daniels (19th place with 10,580,000 cases). Sales of Ballantine’s, a famous whiskey brand, only amounted to 7.5% of total soju sales, with 6,470,000 thousand boxes.

Hamish Smith, a Drinks International journlaist, said in an interview with the Daily Mail of the UK that ‘Jinro soju at the top of the list has scored more than double that of the second place brand, which makes it impossible for most spirit brands to catch up with it.’ Out of the total manufactured volume, 94% or more of Jinro soju and more than 96% of Chum-churum are sold to a domestic market, labelling the brands typically ‘local.’ Five brands of soju were in the top 20 ranks in last year’s survey (based on 2010 sales records), which included Cham soju from Kumbokju (11th), White from Muhak (14th) and C1 soju from Daesun Distilling Co. Local Korean spirit brands are ranked within the top 20, thanks to the Korean culture of heavy drinking.

According to the WHO survey of amounts of alcohol consumed in its 188 member countries in 2005, Korea ranked 13th in the world. However, Korea topped the rank of the amount of alcohol consumed in spirits such as soju and whisky, with 9.57 litres. This means that the amount of hard liquor consumed by Koreans, not wine or beer that is often consumed during meals, is the highest in the world.

Comments from Nate:

김가영:

Absolutely hate it, the Korean culture of drinking alcohol till you’re wasted.

김현용:

So what’s funny here is that….Korean soju is a local spirit, with 90% or more of it sold in Korea, but its sales are in the 1st place internationally? Which means that Korean people literally ‘poured it down th throat’ ke ke The reporter chose such an apt title. An embarrassing 1st place…. ke ke

김종대:

How should I deal with a boss who forces me to drink? It’s driving me crazy.

강준호:

Nothing bothers me really, but I wish the culture of forcing someone who can’t drink alcohol to drink would just end. Since drinking is a personal preference, I hope we can establish a culture that allows people to drink if and when they please…

조재익:

People in our country compete to see who can drink more. On college trips and in workshops all you do is drink loads. They don’t know what to do except for drinking.

김민섭:

Although it is right to change the force-feeding and heavy-drinking culture, the difference in amounts drunk is cultural, so I don’t see how it is really ‘embarrassing’;; It doesn’t seem appropriate that the journalist placed his own bias on it in the title already.

김정민:

To start with, soju is a diluted spirit made by diluting alcohol in water.. What’s funny is..it can’t be compared to spirits like whisky, as soju contains artificial sweetners like stevioside, which is prohibited in other countires… It’s embarrassing that this kind of spirit tops the world rank… Stevioside is known to produce carcinogens when combined with alcohol…

Comments from EDaily:

윤성민:

It’s surely a good thing [to rank so high], but the inconvenient truth is that most of it was probably sold within Korea…

김승영:

In Haeundae, foreigners walk around drinking Saengtak [a brand of Makkoli sold in Busan] like they would drink beer. Culture shock.

우창운:

80% of all spirits in the world are drunk by Korean people ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke

한지연:

Anyway, I contributed to topping the world rankings! Uhm………. yeah ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke ke

박준호:

Should I laugh or cry at this?

And now for some random soju commercials, because why not!

Sexy Soju Advert

Leggy Soju Advert

Sexy Soju Advert

Sexy Soju Advert

Lee Hyori drinks soju, so should you.

Drinking soju in Korean dramas...

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  • chucky3176

    Stupid, considering that soju costs around $1 per bottle, cheap as pop drinks.

    One of the biggest reasons why alcoholism and drunken parties rule in this country.

    I say tax them to death, and bring up the price to at least $20 per bottle and see how many people sober up in a hurry.

    • Brett Sanbon

      Its cheaper than pop drinks… water too.

    • Sunshinefiasco

      Also a bottle of Vodka/Johnny Walker is gonna be a liter, soju bottles are a 3rd of that. In addition to the lower alcohol content. Don’t get me wrong, Korea is generally pretty wasted, but a 300 ml bottle of 10-20% alcohol isn’t really comparable to a litre of whiskey or vodka.

      • Brett Sanbon

        In most places Ive been you can buy a liter or more (a handle), but most bottles are sold as 750ml. Not that any of this says anything about how much alcohol Koreans consume because there are plenty of other kinds of alcohol in Korea to pick from.

        • Sunshinefiasco

          I keep the handle in my house, but I think we all know the little bottles (listed on wikipedia as 300 ml) sell more– meaning you’re a hell of a lot more likely to have a 3 bottle of soju night than a 3 bottle of JW night. The comparison that I drew was more of a critique of how they measure the sales, rather than of Korean drinking habits. That particular clause was written to preemptively beat down the accusation that I was presenting the quantity of drinking here as normal or that I was defending it.

  • Brett Sanbon

    I saw this on CNNgo last night and had a laugh.

    Here is the catch: Most of the other brands on this list sell their alcohol around the world. Jinro is almost exclusively drank by South Koreans in South Korea. As chucky notes, it makes SK and SKns look like huge raging alcoholics.

    PS, to whoever posted the advertisement pics: The sun started peaking out from behind the clouds after I scrolled to the Lee Hyori pic. Thanks for making today a brighter day!

    • James

      I had you in mind at the time Brett lol

    • lonetrey

      Ahahahahahaha! Ooooh, no wonder it says “ranks an embarassing first place”.

      The first thought that came to me instead was “Oh wow, their business is doing better than ours (beer)”.

    • Ian

      I loved the adverts…I’m going to drink soju and ask my fiance to pretend to be Lee Hyori…or Son Dambi, or….anyhow, I will definitely not remember the night. With soju, nights are cheap and thus very, very cheerful!

      • Justin_C

        that is a dangerous dangerous move…. :p

        • Brett Sanbon

          lol +1

  • Jang

    Congratulations to all Koreans in S. Korea!

  • Tippy Long Stocking

    oh. why is that young man wearing lipstick?

    • dim mak

      ..why not?

    • Ian

      because drinking lots of soju makes you do wierd stuff…

  • k

    when i was in korea it amazed me at how much in denial koreans are about their alcohol problem….i also hated the forced drinking culture there and it was one of the reasons i didnt want my husband working for a korean company there. the whole you must drink till youre wasted with your boss thing is just shameful and destructive to family units. my sister in laws husband had to routinely drink with his boss, staying out late and going to girl bars to drink while his wife and baby were at home worried and pissed…and it did hurt their marriage. i know many koreans also hate the drinking with your boss culture.

    • Stories of butts

      Has ever tried to take his time drinking so they dont pour every time his glass is empty and pretend to act drunk? Thats what I usually do when around drunk people that keep handing me drinks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Smith/100003026114865 John Smith

      It wasn’t just drink until drunk, it was usually drink until vomiting. “Domestic” violence was rampant, and “road pizza” was everywhere on a typical Saturday and Sunday morning. Most apartment buildings and many subway stations had to hose down their walkways and steps to clean it off.

  • Paul

    What is the alcohol content of soju, 10 – 20%? Don’t feel too bad Korean friends, it’s not like you’re driniking 40% spirits like rum and vodka with your lunch and dinner.

    • Brett Sanbon

      10 shots of 20% is the same as 5 shots of 40%. Even if you adjust the rankings above for percentage, soju still wins.

      To Korea’s defense, most Koreans I know stick with soju, whereas my friends back in the States drink different spirits every time they go out. In this sense, it is possible that Koreans consume a comparable amount of alcohol to people from other countries.

      • Paul M

        That’s a fair point and a little ray of hope for the more pessimistic amongst the Korean netizens who seem to think that their fellow countrymen are raging alcoholics. Just to have a little dig at Koreans now – there used to be a bar near me that sold different brands of soju from all over the peninsula including Jejudo. However most customers, in what I thought was a display of pig headed regional insularity, would only drink the local brand soju.

  • Bouzdela

    Why is the unit ”cases”. Is a case a standard unit and represents liquid quantity and not number of bottles?
    If not then i’d say a case of vodka contains a lot more alcohol than a case of soju.

    • Brett Sanbon

      A case is 9 liters and a case of vodka contains twice as much alcohol as a case of soju.

      • Bouzdela

        Thanks Brett for clarifications and that’s pretty important to know to grasp the full meaning of the article

  • Byungjun

    Comparing the consumption in cases shows only the popularity of soju, nothing more. If they want to have some stats about the value of the brand, they should compare annual total revenue or profits, which would account for the fact that a bottle of whisky or vodka is way more expensive than soju. If they wanted to compare for the alcohol consumption, it seems right to account for the different percentage of alcohol per bottle.
    I think drinking lots of soju doens’t mean Koreans are strong drinkers. I find it true that Koreans get wasted so easily but they still don’t stop pouring that stuff
    down their throats. Getting wasted doesn’t prove anything. It’s just so childish.

    • chucky3176

      This is not about ranking who’s the strongest drinkers, it’s about the 낯뜨거운 1위 – an embarrassing number one for Korea. The fact that, that many soju have been sold. Nobody’s proud that Korea is over drinking itself to stupor.

  • Kirby34

    They really need to establish a better measurement comparison. A case of 750 ml bottles of Smirnoff compared to a case of 300 ml bottles of soju? They should actually use total volume as a measurement! Was this poll conducted by Koreans as another way to show Koreans are better than the rest of the world using skewed and selective “facts”???

    • Brett Sanbon

      They were using volume. 1 case is 9 liters. If 300ml bottles than 30 bottles equals 1 case. If 750ml bottles than 12 bottles makes 1 case.

      I dont think that “this poll [was] conducted by Koreans as another way to show Koreans are better than the rest of the world using skewed and selective “facts” “. If you read above, some netizens are condemning their country-mates of being drunkards and consider this “title” embarassing.

      • Kirby34

        Considering the Koreans drink it like beer and not as a spirit in the conventional sense, I stand by response. The largest case I recall seeing for sale in the stores is a case of twelve (maybe 18), but certainly not thirty. I think we can agree that, either way, Korea has a drinking problem…

        • Brett Sanbon

          Lol the strangest thing I ever saw was hundreds of men in suits staggering around Seoul in 2009… Im so numb to it now, I hardly notice.

          Regarding “case”, it is a standard unit of measurement for alcohol. In this “case” it doesnt mean “box”, but rather 9 liters (i dont think 1 box of soju can be purchased in 30 bottle packs either). This is where the confusion is coming in, just replace the thought of case being a shipping container with the idea it is a unit of measurement (9 liters).

  • Paul

    We have a winning comment:

    “김승영:
    In Haeundae, foreigners walk around drinking Saengtak [a brand of Makkoli sold in Busan] like they would drink beer. Culture shock.”

    Not only utterly off-topic, but makgolli actually is a beer.

    • Joey

      Yeah, except that it isn’t.

    • glenn

      Isn’t makgolli also known as rice wine?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Smith/100003026114865 John Smith

    Soju and Korean whisky? The ajummas use the leftovers in restaurants to clean toilets and floors, that should tell you all you need to know about how wretched that stuff is. I had Koreans tell me the 4,000-5,000 won “whiskies” were better quality than the stuff I drank (usually liqueurs and brandies, upwards of 20-25,000 per bottle).

    The only good beer in Korea is imported beer. I was soooo grateful that Japan was next door (Asahi and Kirin) and that the Philippines (San Miguel) and Singapore (Tiger) weren’t far away either. Nearly every foreigner I knew (and many Koreans) referred to “Hite” as shite. The only redeeming quality of Korean beers is that most Asian beers are worse (Taiwanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc.).

    .

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