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  • Writer's pictureGrégoire Musitelli (戈虎)

How is the local alcohol offer in South Korea? 🤔

Alcoholic beverages have been part of every day Korean life since 430 BC. Currently, the local production of alcoholic beverages in Korea is divided mainly between beer, soju & liquors with respectively 1,500 M Liters and 1,360 M Liters in 2020.



1) Beer: 38,2%

2) Soju & Liquors: 34,6%

3) Traditional alcohols (excluding soju): 12,5%

4) Other distilled alcohols (brandy, whisky, gin etc.): 8,8%

5) Other alcoholic beverages: 5,9%

Image: "Makgeolli" traditional Korean alcohol from fermented rice.

Beer and Soju lead local production

South Korea is the 4th largest beer producer in Asia with 2 billion liters of annual production (>1 billion USD in value) in 2020.

The country produce barely any wines (<1%), whereas Soju represent 73% out of the total traditional alcohol production with 1.3 billion liters.

The local alcohol market represents more than USD 4 billion in revenue. The main productive regions for traditional alcohols are Gyeonggi-do, North Chungcheong and Jeollabuk.


Introduced by the Japanese at the end of the 19th century (during colonization), beer consumption has since been dominated by the local supply. In terms of sales volume, beer remains the most popular alcoholic beverage in Korea. In 2020, Koreans consumed nearly 43L of beer per person.

The Covid pandemic has transformed the market with the collapse of on-trade sales (-26%) in 2020. However, the «Honsul» trend (drinking alone at home) came to balance sales by increasing off-trade sales by 18% the same year.

The main players in the local beer market form a duopoly between OB (Oriental Brewery) and Hite-Jinro.

Most beer are industrial products without strong character (lager), and very affordable for consumers.

An opportunity for craft-beer?

Image: Korean craft beer

In 2021, the domestic craft beer market was worth USD 160M, but is expected to reach USD 300M in 2023.


Traditional alcohols (historically made from fermented rice) were reserved for traditional and religious ceremonies, since the 14th century.

Traditional Korean alcohols are divided into 6 categories:

• « Soju »: cheap and mass-consumed (73% of traditional alcohol production), it's originally made from rice, but now often made from wheat or sweet potato by manufacturers.

• « Makgeolli »: Also known as "Takju", it's a rice wine from fermentation. Takju represents 24% of the production volume of local traditional alcohols .

• « Cheongju », « Gwasilju », « Yakju »: clear rice wine, fruit wine, medicinal drink, their combined production is <3%.

Since 2018 the volume of traditional alcohol sales has been slightly down, whereas increasing in value.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned, the next article on South Korea will share some import-export data in the wine & spirits industry.

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