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Soju is probably the most popular spirit that most Americans know next to nothing about. A lot of people think of it as the Korean version of sake. But those people would be wrong. Yes, it’s clear and often made with rice as a base, but there’s a lot more to soju than that. Because of lax laws defining what is and isn’t soju, there’s a ton of variety within the category, starting with alcohol content. Soju can be bottled as low at 16 percent and as high as 53 percent. There’s also variation in its main ingredients. Soju is often made with wheat or barley as a base, but some modern producers have gone so far as to use sweet potatoes or tapioca. The reason for the experimentation? In the 1960s, Korea experienced a rice shortage, which resulted in a government ban on rice distilling. This forced producers to get creative, because one thing was certain: People were not going to stop enjoying soju.

With so many different types of soju to choose from, it should come as no surprise that it’s used in tons of different ways. Certain styles are best sipped straight and served with grilled meats, while others add the perfect kick to a cocktail.

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