Drinking, and drinking heavily, is a big part of Korean culture, and it definitely ties in with their ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra. It is not uncommon to go for dinner on a week night and at the next table see a middle aged businessman face down surrounded by empty green soju bottles, while his colleagues are in a similar state of inebriation laughing manically and slapping each other on the back.
The three most popular drinks in Korea are soju, maekju, and makgeolli although expensive whiskeys are becoming increasingly popular these days.
Soju is like Japanese sake, or a slightly sweeter, more watery vodka (or paint stripper!), and is drank in vast quantities. You can buy a bottle of soju in the shops for around ₩1000 (60p/1$), and is only slightly more expensive in bars. Apparently Koreans drink so much of the stuff that the most well known soju brand, Jinro, is in fact the top selling brand of spirits worldwide. Pretty impressive for a population of 49 million.
Maekju is the Korean word for beer and it’s served pretty much anywhere. Well known Western beers are easy to come across, but are considerably more expensive than Korean brands like Cass, Hite and Max. I was never a big fan of beer at home and much prefer beer here, but the general consensus among foreigners is that it is fizzier and weaker tasting than Western beers.
Makgeolli (literally ‘farmer’s alcohol’) is a much more traditional drink, is an unstrained, milky spirit made from rice and barley. It has a much lower alcohol content than soju, around 6 or 7%, and comes in various different flavours.