What is the difference between sake and soju?

In this brief article, we are going to answer the question, “What is the difference between sake and soju?”, and discuss what sake and soju is and how sake and soju are made.

What is the difference between sake and soju?

The difference between sake and soju is that sake is a traditional Japanese drink whereas soju is a traditional Korean drink. Sake is brewed and fermented similar to beer and soju is distilled like vodka. 

Soju is produced at two stages: the first involves converting starch to sugar and the second involves converting sugar to alcohol. Soju is distilled and has better production in warmer climates.  

What is sake?

Sake is a sort of beer produced by steeped grain and goes through the process of fermentation with yeast. The process of fermentation is repeated a second time, but this time it is fermented with koji mould.

Koji mould  is a type of mould used as a starter culture in countries such as China, Korea and Japan, for the fermentation of soybeans. This mould is used to make rice wine, soju soybean paste, miso pastes, soy sauce and sake. The alcohol content in sake is usually between 15-17%.

The taste of sake ranges from dry to sweet and is usually clear and still in appearance but sake that is unfiltered has a milky white colour. Some sake may even be carbonated. 

The quality and cost of sake depends on the polish levels or the content of rice grains milled (bran removed) before the process of brewing. Premium sake is polished more than 10% (which is the standard percentage for regular polish) to varying degrees. 

How is sake made?

The sake is made by soaking grounded rice in water and steaming it to soften the rice. Part of the rice is separated to spread the koji fungus, which then releases enzymes for the conversion of starch into sugar. This rice is thus known as Koji Kome.  The fermentation process occurs at low temperatures 6-15 degrees celsius. 

A part of koji kome is then separated, and some steamed rice and water is added to the infested rice. Lactic acid bacteria is further added to provide an environment for breeding of yeast. When the rice is populated with yeast it is known as Shubo.

Shubo is dumped into a larger vessel and more of the previously steamed rice koji kome and water are added, in small quantities in 3-4 steps, in a period of 3 weeks to a month.

Small amounts of alcohol can be added to refine the flavours to release the floral and vinous scents before pressing. Sakes which do not have additional alcohol added are referred to as Junmai and have a stronger scents and umami flavours.

What is soju?

Soju is a clear spirit whose origins are in Korea. Previously, it was traditionally made from rice, but now it is made from other grains and starches including wheat, sweet potatoes and tapioca. Sojus therefore differ in their flavour and smell. The term “soju” literally means burnt liquor, as the distillation of alcohol occurs at higher temperatures, and is almost burnt. 

Soju is drunk with food and is also used as a spirit in cocktails. It contains 20-34% alcohol by volume and mostly has a neutral flavour. Soju is commonly referred to as Korean vodka by Americans. 

The flavour of soju is clean and pairs up well with spicy and fatty foods consumed in Korea such as kimchi and pork belly BBQ. It is served in shot glasses which are a bit larger than the standard shot glass. This glass is known as sojujan. 

How is soju made?

Soju is made by the distillation of alcohol which is obtained by fermenting rice grains. The wine of rice, for making distilled soju, has to undergo fermentation for about two weeks. The fermented product is then allowed to boil in a cauldron slot. A pot known as the soju gori is put on top to complete the process of distillation.

Other FAQs about Sake that you may be interested in.

How much alcohol is in sake?

Does sake need to be refrigerated?


In this brief article, we answered the question, “What is the difference between sake and soju?”, and discussed what sake and soju is and how sake and soju are made.