While Korea may be known for having some of the longest work weeks in the world, the locals certainly know how to unwind. Drinking is a large part of Korean culture, whether you're making new friends or negotiating a new business deal. Before heading out to Seoul's watering holes, familiarize yourself with Korea's drinking culture and remember to yell the Korean word for cheers, "Gun bae!"
Hite is a popular brand of Korean beer — Photo courtesy of jeanbaptisteparis/Flickr
In Korea, beer is known as "maekju." While made mostly of malt, Korean beers tend to be a bit milder than Western beers. The country's top three domestic beer brewers are Hite, Cass and OB, and varieties of these beers can be found in any convenience store, market or restaurant. Convenience stores and bars also carry a range of international brews like Heineken, Budweiser and Asahi. In restaurants, ask for "sseng maeku" for a cold draft pour.
Often compared to Japenese sake or Russian vodka, soju is a Korean rice wine that packs a punch. The uninitiated will find soju plays well with soda or juice, but this potent liquor is usually consumed in shots. Alternatively, you can create a "poktanju," or soju bomb, by dropping a shot glass filled with soju into a glassful of beer. Soju is generally a very affordable drink usually comes in a green bottle.
Magkeolli generally accompanies traditional Korean meals — Photo courtesy of hirotomo/Flickr
A sweet beverage made from fermented rice, makgeolli got its start as a cheap, farmer's drink. Today, makgeolli is popular with both locals and tourists. The milky white drink comes in countless varieties, traditionally served in metal bowls with "jeon," or Korean pancake. Trendy bars serve makgeolli cocktails, mixing the beverage with fruits like kiwi or banana to make a sort of Korean daiquiri. In popular nightlife areas such as Hongdae or Itaewon, expats prefer to buy cheap bottles of makgeolli from cart-pulling vendors known as "makgeolli men."
Often confused with makgeolli, dongdongju is an alcoholic beverage made from rice and wheat. While makgeolli is smooth, dongdongju contains bits of rice. This milky alcohol is usually served when eating "bindaetteok" (mung bean pancake) or jeon.
Korean soju and bokbunja — Photo courtesy of Stephane <3/Flickr
Bonbunjaju is a Korean wine made from black raspberries. Much sweeter than red wines made from grapes, bokbunjaju is a staple for special occasions.
When drinking in a Korean social setting, look to the eldest member of the group to call the shots. Younger people are expected to pour alcohol for their elders, and you'll always want to use two hands when pouring for or receiving a drink. You'll get bonus points for holding your cup with your right hand while using your left hand to support your right wrist.
Another important etiquette tip is to never refuse a drink--it's considered rude. Empty glasses are quickly refilled, so if you're done drinking, leave a little alcohol in the bottom your glass. Meeting up for a drink in Seoul can easily lead to a night of barhopping, and the last stop of the night is almost always a noraebang, or singing room. Don't worry about staying out too late since taxis are available all night to get you back to your hotel safely. Gunbae!