Korea’s favorite soju and beer cocktail – how to make somaek

We’ve all heard of a boilermaker; or perhaps if you’re Scottish, you know it as a half and half. But have you ever tried the nationally loved Korean version somaek, a mix of soju and beer? In fact, that’s even where we get the name from. Mix together the words soju and maekju (Korean for beer), and you’ve got it – so-maek, soju and beer.

So, you’re just mixing soju and beer. It’s only two liquids, so it sounds simple to make, right? In fact, find a few Koreans in a bar and ask them how to make one, and you’re likely to spark a fierce debate. Not only does it matter which brands of soju and beer you use, of course, but even the perfect ratio of beer to soju is hotly contested. Read on to find out our preference and find out if you agree with our choices…

What’s the best ratio of soju and beer?

Somaek is a popular drink for those of us who find drinking soju straight up too hard to handle, but equally don’t like beer on its own. Getting the ratio of soju to beer right is a matter of preference, depending on which of the ingredients you prefer, but it’s key to getting the drink right.

As a result, one enterprising Korean has invented a special measuring cup to make sure your drink is mixed to perfection every time. These include choices like the ‘Blackout’ – a half and half mix of soju and beer – to a much gentler 1:9 soju to beer ratio.

But ask the inventor of this mixological masterpiece, and indeed most Koreans, and they’ll tell you there’s a golden ratio. That’s three parts soju, to seven parts beer. Perfect to give you the flavour of both parts of the cocktail, but not to leave you on the floor after a couple.

A survey of nearly 1,900 Koreans identified that 70% of the country agrees that this is the optimum formula. (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the survey responses were also in a 7:3 ratio in favour of that combination!)

One of our favourite producers of soju, Jinro, has also handed out promotional Soju and Beer Certificates to a hundred specially selected Koreans – including, almost inevitably, YouTube sensation Psy – who have sent in their favourite somaek recipes.

So, we’ve determined that the perfect somaek has 70% beer. That means you need the right beer to make up the majority of your drink. But what’s the best choice?

What’s the best beer to use?

a row of draft beer pumps

Let’s not get confused – by ‘beer’, we don’t mean an India Pale Ale or stout. You definitely need a lager or pilsner to make your somaek, and in theory, any of these that you have to hand should do.

For the authentic Seoul bar experience though, you’re best off picking a Korean beer.

In practice, this means choosing one of the two most popular beer brands. This means you’ll either be topping your soju up with Cass, the most popular brand in Korea, or another commonly found bottle in Hite Extra Cold.

But this writer’s personal preference? Try Kloud, from Lotte, the makers of Chum Churum soju. Made with Bavarian hallertau hops – that is, hops from Germany’s primary pilsner producing region – it’s my favourite Korean lager and makes a great somaek.

We’ve determined what should make up the majority of our somaek now (unless you’re really going for it and opting for an equal mix!), but what about the all-important soju element?

What’s the best soju to use?

bottles of soju

Traditionally, somaek is made using original, regular soju. As the most widely available and a favorite of Korean businessmen for years, this makes perfect sense. For the purists, this is still what you want to go for. Simply pick from one of the main brands like Jinro, Chum Churum or Chamisul.

But the bad news for those of us that want to remember the night is that traditional soju is relatively strong. On top of that, if you don’t much like the taste of soju, why would you want to add lots of it to your beer?

So why not try an alternative of a flavored soju? Not only are these standardly a little less alcoholic, but they come with a bonus of masking the taste of the beer if the brew’s not your bag.

There are loads of varieties available, but a few possible combinations are:

  • Apple: This has been described elsewhere as tasting like Jolly Ranchers, which depending on your tastebuds, will either sound like the best thing ever, or the worst idea since prohibition.
  • Citron: Have you ever heard of Radler? It’s a popular drink in continental Europe, cutting beer with lemon to make a refreshing choice for summer. Whilst Radler is usually lower percentage by volume than regular beer, I can’t promise that’ll be the case when you add soju to your Cass or Kloud. But for a great taste, you can’t go wrong.
  • Plum: Hear me out on this one. Dark fruit beer, like plum and cherry, has been around for years, but more commonly in Belgium. Given it’s a long way from Brussels to Seoul, why not invent your own beer and soju version? With plum soju being one of my favorite flavored soju options as well, this is a no-brainer as far as my tastes go.

Okay, so we’ve got our beer and our soju ready to go, and we know what ratio we’re going to mix it in. All that’s left is something to pour it into, and drink it out of!

What’s the right type of somaek beer glass?

Korea being Korea, it might come as little surprise that the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards has specified a standard size for beer glasses. That’s to hold 200ml, being 1.1cm tall, and wider at the top (60 millimeters) than the bottom (55 millimeters).

As a Brit who’s used to his beer coming in pints, that sounds incredibly small to me. But given we want to make our beer and soju concoction, the fact that our standard glass is a bit smaller will probably save our bacon when it comes to the potency of the drink.

If you want to learn more about the different types of soju glasses available on the market, do have a look at our guide here. And in practice, if you’re not in a Korean bar, any highball glass or similar will do, provided you get the ratio right.

However, as we’ve discussed above, specific glasses for mixing are available. Alongside their somaek certificates, Jinro have also produced special somaek measuring glasses, which helpfully also set out the alcoholic strength of the drink depending how much class soju you include. If you want to get hold of your own, they’re available on Etsy.

We’ve got everything we need now for the perfect somaek. If you want to, you can chuck both the soju and beer into a glass and be done with it. But what about if you want to show off a bit with your mixology?

somaek beer glass

The guide to mixing soju and beer – how to make the perfect somaek

Of course, you can just add beer to your soju, and it will make a perfectly good drink. But what about if you want to impress your friends? Here are some of our favorite tricks for making somaek.

The Hurricane

First, mix your soju and to your perfect ratio. Once complete, grab a napkin and hold it over the top of your glass with your palm, ensuring the opening of the glass is fully covered so as not to waste your perfect potion.

Then, to mix your drink, whirl the insides by rotating your wrist. If you’re doing it right, you’ll immediately see where the name of the method comes from, as you create your own miniature twister!

The Diamond

This one’s pretty darn simple – just add ice. Being honest, I’m not a massive fan of this one. The standard glass doesn’t really have room for ice, and it can easily end up diluting your somaek when it melts. But if you’ve got a decent ice cube tray or don’t mind swapping your glass regularly, the ice in your glass can make it ‘shine bright like a diamond’, in the words of Rihanna.

Soju bomb

Technically, this isn’t a type of somaek. With a soju bomb, you drop a full shot glass of soju into a glass of beer. Given the production of the perfect somaek requires mixing the beer and soju, in our book, it’s not quite the same. Only the most simplistic of drinkers would call a jagerbomb a cocktail!

The Cappuccino

… and if I say a soju bomb’s not really somaek, try this one on for size!  Drop your shot of soju in a shot glass into the larger beer glass, and then surround it with beer until the shot glass sails to the surface.

Cover the rim of the glass with a napkin (much like the Hurricane), but instead of swirling it, hit the top of the glass firmly with your other hand’s palm. (But not too hard: drinkpirate.com takes no responsibility for broken glassware or injured hands).

If you’ve done it right, a bubbly foam should fizz up to the top of the glass. This gives the Cappuccino its name, as it’s said to look like the famous Italian breakfast coffee.

Conclusion – what have we learnt about somaek, the soju and beer cocktail?

So now you know:

  • What somaek, the cocktail of beer and soju, is
  • The best ratio of soju to beer
  • The best ingredients to make somaek
  • The right type of glass to hold your somaek, and
  • A variety of special methods to impress your friends when making it.

Enjoy your somaek!

Image sources: Somaek By 은영쌤 – http://dmsdud412.tistory.com/9, licensed under Creative Commons 4.0

Beer pumps: George Bakos, https://unsplash.com/@georgebakos

Soju bottles: u/jokenoob on Reddit

Beer glass: Photo by YesMore Content on Unsplash

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