Soju: The Truth About The Best-Selling Liquor In The World

The world abounds with boozes that boast their own unique charm. For instance, if you want to twist your sober brain cells like a screwdriver, you can't go wrong with vodka, which — fun fact — translates to "little water" in Russian, per the Irish Times. If you want to water your liver with something slightly more festive, you might try spiced rum, particularly the Captain Morgan variety. That way, if you dislocate your hip while partying like a 17th-century swashbuckler, physicians can fix if efficiently by posing you like the logo on the bottle while popping your thigh back into its socket (via NPR). But of the many fascinating sources of liquid cirrhosis, what's the world's favorite?

Based on sales, the world's most popular liquor is the Korean drink, Soju. Even if you've never heard of Soju, there's a good chance you've heard of the Korean superstar who drank it like a thirsty fish on YouTube: Psy, the guy behind the viral hit, "Gangnam Style." Giving a whole new meaning to the term "trick shot," Psy drank three shots simultaneously as part of a larger contest. Surprisingly, he wasn't the most viral thing in the video. Soju is way more popular.

Embracing the spirit of Soju

Traditionally made from fermented rice but also distilled from sweet potatoes, tapioca, and other starches, Soju was the top-selling alcoholic beverage in the world for 16 consecutive years as of 2017, according to The Korea Herald. Considering how much alcohol the populace drinks, that's really saying something. In 2018, Town & Country reported that the average South Korean downs a whopping 13.7 shots of liquor weekly. 

Soju is about 20 percent alcohol by volume, and people have likened the taste of the drink to that of rubbing alcohol or "watered-down vodka." But it's cheap, so for most people, it probably tastes just right.

Soju has enchanted livers for longer than any of us (or basically anyone) have been alive. The drink rose to prominence during the 14th century, when the invading Mongols taught Koreans how to distill Soju (via The Spruce Eats). That sounds like a lethal combination of high levels of bloodshed and even high blood-alcohol content, so it's only fitting that Soju would make a killing as it invaded the rest of the world. By 2013, it was sold in over 80 countries.