The word cheongju (청주; 淸酒) consists of two syllables: cheong (청; 淸) meaning “clear” and ju (주; 酒) meaning “alcoholic drink”. It contrasts with takju (탁주; 濁酒), as “tak” (탁; 濁) means “turbid”. The word takju usually refers to makgeolli (milky, unrefined rice wine). The hanja characters 淸酒 are etymologically the same as the kanji pronounced seishu used on the labels of sake.
The native Korean word for “clear wine”, malgeun-sul (맑은술), is also used to refer to cheongju. Another name for cheongju is yakju (약주; 藥酒), which often translates into “medicinal wine”.