It's official: Jinro soju is the world's best-selling liquor

It's official: Jinro soju is the world's best-selling liquor

Which makes Korea the world's drinking capital, obviously
The most popular bottle in the world.

When we saw this on the Korean news, we blinked. Then cracked up.

The Millionaires' Club, an England-based catalog that ranks brands, liquors and spirits, pinpointed Korea's Jinro soju as the world's best-selling brand of liquor, based on data collected in 2011.

The rankings are based on yearly aggregate sales in units of nine-liter cases. In order to even make it on to the list, brands need to sell at least 1 million cases a year -- no easy feat.

Some 61.38 million cases of Jinro soju were sold last year, easily making it the world's most heavily consumed brand of liquor.

The numbers

Jinro soju's landslide victory over a long roll of better-known global liquor giants might be something of a shock: the local Korean distilled rice liquor manufacturer outsold runner-up Smirnoff vodka more than twofold, the latter falling considerably short with 24.70 million cases sold.

Lotte Liquor soju was third on the list, at 23.9 million cases.

Further down the list of 180 brands, Bacardi rum (No. 5) sold 19.56 million cases, Jack Daniel's whiskey (No. 19) sold 10.58 million cases and Jim Beam whiskey-bourbon sold 5.86 million cases (No. 37).

jinro cfThe latest advertisement for Jinro soju. It's clearly working.

And though we all like an underdog success story, believe it or not, this isn't even Jinro soju's inaugural or record-breaking win -- it's the untoppled eleventh.

What's more, Jinro sold 75.99 million cases in 2008.

That means that based on numbers from the last few years, 2011 actually marks a new low in sales.

The reason for the dip?

As Drinks International explains in its Millionaires' Club brochure, "Jinro suffers from being the dominant brand in a slow growth market."

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Most popular unknown liquor in the world

So what do Jinro's eyebrow-arching numbers mean, especially considering that most people outside of Asia have never heard of the drink, let alone the brand?

Jinro doesn't publish a breakdown of percentages of consumption by country, but does say that most of its orders come from Korea (obviously), then Japan, followed by the United States/Canada and Southeast Asia.

"As you know, there aren't that many spirits with medium-level alcohol content," said a Hite-Jinro representative. "That, along with the fact that Jinro's Chamisul soju is a moderate 19 percent alcohol by volume, explains how Jinro has already made a name for itself by being substantially cheaper than other liquors."

A bottle of soju costs around ₩1,450 (a little more than US$1) at convenience stores and around ₩3,500 (around US$3) at restaurants and bars.

The conclusion might be that the weaker and cheaper the alcohol, the better it sells -- in Korea, anyway.

That and the fact that Koreans drink a lot.

Pricing aside, soju's explosive popularity is also mind-boggling when you take the actual taste into consideration.

"Soju tastes like rubbing alcohol," said one foreigner who declined to give his name. "I don't know how Koreans drink it."

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Where to try it

Forget the fancy soju-based cocktails at Seoul's five-star luxury hotels.

To drink soju like a local, you need to head to a tent, whether it's an actual orange tarp or a modernized version with "booking" -- single-sex groups scoping out other single-sex groups and combining parties on the spot.

Here's where to try the world's best-selling liquor.

Hanshin Pocha (한신포차), 407-23 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul (서울시 마포구 서교동 407-23); +82 2 3143 0410

Shim Bbongs (심뽕스),663-23 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 강남구 신사동 663-23); +82 2 541 0270

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Collated by global research agency Euromonitor International and published by Drinks International, the June 2012 issue of The Millionaires' Club can be found online at

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Max Kim writes for CNNGo. He is sedentary if he can help it. 

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