Beer in North Korea is a thing. Apparently, they began brewing in 2001 at the urging of Kim Jong Il. He looks so happy, beer in hand. pic.twitter.com/ZVtbmQjA6e
— Travis (@Travis_Mumbles) July 27, 2017
Cancel those plans to Pyongyang: AP is reporting that a popular, month-long North Korean beer festival (we can’t quite locate its name, if it has one) has been canceled due to, well, it being in North Korea for starters. In a country that could certainly use a win, last year’s inaugural festival from Taedonggang Brewery along the Taedong River was apparently a big hit. For reasons that shall remain mysterious (a strict North Korean policy), the brew fest was suddenly shirked.
Yet Taedonggang Brewery did release a new beer to celebrate that canceled fest — but it doesn’t have a name. Noting other Taedonggang beer names (“Beer Number One,” “Beer Number Two” and so on), we’ll let the reader entertain some guesses. From the AP story:
Han Hyong Chol, head of quality management, told The Associated Press Taedonggang’s brewery pumps out 200 kiloliters (53,000 gallons) of beer every day to meet the demand of beer drinkers in the North Korean capital — a city of about 3 million — where it’s distributed to 160 beer halls.
According to brewery history, the plant on Pyongyang’s outskirts was built at the order of Kim Jong Il, current leader Kim Jong Un’s father, in 2001 and began production the following year.
The brewery courtyard features a large mural of Kim Jong Il wearing a white lab coat and holding a trademark green Taedonggang bottle while smiling broadly before a production line. Several larger-than-life photos of Kim conducting “on-the-spot guidance” hang in brewery production halls.
You can enjoy that image above. The brewery is, of course, a state-owned and state-run enterprise. North Korea actually bought the brewhouse for Taedonggang from Ushers of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, England, for £1.5 million. After 175 years of production, Ushers of Trowbridge, which dominated the Wiltshire countryside, went bust in 2000. Enjoy this story on brewmaster Gary Todd recalling the day North Koreans came to take away his brewery. Now enjoy this super trippy, two-minute commercial from Taedonggang.
Most reports indicate that the beers have a decent flavor, and the brands have seen exports to both South Korea and China (though South Korean distribution has stopped). From a Radio Free Asia article:
In 2012, Britain’s The Economist magazine ruffled feathers in South Korea with an article that contrasted Taedonggang with what it called the South’s “boring beer” and said “brewing remains just about the only useful activity at which North Korea beats the South.”
I guess when contrasted by the country’s infamous torture chambers and prison camps, starving citizens and horrifying environmental concerns, intercontinental ballistic missiles and psychotic, mini-golf loving dictator, cracking open a Taedonggang beer in Pyongyang might be one of the most relaxing, sweet-tasting beer experiences on earth.