Millennials in South Korea Love Whisky So Much They Drove Imports Up by a Record

Millennials and older Gen Z in South Korea can’t get enough whisky, sending imports of the grain alcohol surging.

(Bloomberg) — Millennials and older Gen Z in South Korea can’t get enough whisky, sending imports of the grain alcohol surging. 

The country imported 8,443 tons of whisky from largely the UK and US in the first three months of this year, up 78% from the prior-year period, according to data from the Korea Customs Service. It marks the biggest first-quarter increase in the figures that go back to 2000 and the second-highest level after the end of last year, the data show. 

The deluge reflects changing preferences among the country’s so-called “MZ Generation” of millennials and Gen Z. Whisky imports have been rising steadily since the end of Covid restrictions when young Koreans switched to the darker and heavier grain beverage that can be mixed with soda to make a highball or used in cocktails. 

Jihong Park, the owner of music bar Strange Fruit in the trendy Hongdae neighborhood in Western Seoul, says his customers are drinking more Jameson Irish whiskey these days.

“Whisky is more and more popular with young people, and they don’t drink much compared with our generation— I think they’re interested in tasting whisky,” said the 56-year-old Park. Jameson is popular at his bar because “it’s not expensive, quite good and easy to drink,” he said.

Beer remains king, with the volume of imports about seven times that of whisky in the January-March period, but imports declined 8%. Sales of whisky, brandy and rum exceeded soju — the country’s national drink — in the first two months of this year, according to data from E-Mart Inc., one of Korea’s biggest retail operators. 

More than one-third of whisky sales last year were to people in their 20s and nearly half to people in their 30s, according to Yonhap News, citing data from GS25, a major convenience store operator in the country. More than half of whisky buyers at CU, another corner shop chain, were in their 20s and 30s.

–With assistance from Ken McCallum and Heesu Lee.

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