South Korea's Popular Somaek Cocktail Combines Beer And Soju

In South Korea, a night out will never be complete without a glass of somaek, a classic combination of soju and light beer. Etymologically, somaek combines the beginning syllables of soju and maekju (Korean for beer), which is exactly what the drink entails, according to Carving a Journey. This neutral pairing is suitable for all palates and as traditional to Koreans as gin and tonics are to Americans. Soju is Korea's clear, distilled liquor with a notably smooth and odorless finish (via Sauce Magazine). It's light, too, with an average ABV of 20%, as opposed to the harder liquors we're familiar with, like vodka, which has twice the ABV, per Alcohol Rehab Guide.

Soju has been around in Korea since the 1200s, and it is considered South Korea's "national drink," according to 10 Mag. Traditional soju was made from rice and wheat, but during Korea's Post-Liberation period in the 1960s, the government outlawed the use of rice for distilling soju. This paved the way for cheaper alternatives such as sweet potatoes and tapioca, which remain common ingredients for popular soju brands. Timeout notes that beer is a relatively novel drink for Koreans, as it was introduced in the late 19th century by the Japanese. Korean beers, especially one by the name of Hite, tend to taste like the light editions of Western beers due to their micro-filtered distilling process, per Easy Korean Food.

The golden ratio of soju and beer

A classic somaek is whipped up right at the table. The Korean beer of choice is usually Hite beer, which comes from the largest beer manufacturer in Korea. Korea Times reports that most people agree on the golden ratio of a somaek: 70% beer and 30% soju. This ratio is so well known that beer glasses often come with lined indicators that help one concoct the perfectly balanced somaek. How To Seoul demonstrates the golden ratio by measuring and pouring them together (via YouTube). Then comes the fun part: Use a chopstick or spoon and slam it inside the beer glass to create a fizzy foam on top. You can also plop your shot glass of soju between a couple of chopsticks set atop the beer glass and slam your fist on the table, letting the soju glass fall into the beer. This shows that making a somaek is often messy, but this adds to the thrill of drinking it.

Somaek is a fixture for group hangouts and even work dinners among businessmen, per Korea Times. It combines the higher alcohol content of a flavorless soju with the barley finish of a light Korean beer, making for an incredibly smooth alcoholic beverage.

Add Coke or take on a challenge

The art of somaek comes not only from its golden ratio and how it's made but also from how it's drunk. Out of this simple concoction comes an array of drinking games and challenges. Korea Times shares the most popular "Hole-in-One" method that requires you to chug the whole glass in one gulp. An even gutsier challenge is the "Air Force One," which requires two servings of somaek — you drink from one glass while the second serving is poured into the first. The challenge here is to get two glasses down at once and keep your clothes dry while you do it.

Beyond the simple somaek, some interesting additions enhance this cocktail. How To Seoul provides a recipe that adds a bit of Coke to the mix, which leaves a sweet licorice taste at the end of your drink. For this, you need two soju glasses and one beer glass. A bit of Coke is poured into a soju glass and then placed at the bottom of an empty beer glass. Then, a glass with a shot of soju is put directly on top of the Coke glass. The beer is poured over both shots, filling the glass to the top. When you drink a somaek this way, you first taste a plain somaek, and the Coke sneaks up on you near the end.