Reuters

The country's well-connected elites are crazy for beer, with palates developed under the reign of Kim Jong-Il.

Like father, like son in North Korea—at least when it comes to trying to provide a frosty stein of beer for the Party faithful. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s recent effort to get Germany’s Paulaner brewery to build a Bavarian brew pub in the North Korean capital may seem a bit odd. A high percentage of people in his country are starving, and few enjoy anything in the way of creature comforts.

But it turns out that North Koreans—at least well-connected ones—are crazy for beer, with palates developed under the reign of Kim’s father, Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il. The elder Kim, who died in 2011, was known for his love of the finest Hennessy cognac and concubines. Less known were his efforts to create a decent locally-made North Korean beer.

The quest began in 2000 when Kim caught wind that the Ushers brewery in Wiltshire, England had shut down after producing fine country ales for 180 years. The North Koreans struck a deal, dismantled the plant, shipped it to Pyongyang and painstakingly reassembled it. The Dear Leader was personally on hand in June 2002 to tour the recently launched Taedonggang Beer Factory, and even offered brewing advice on how to brew  it and keep it fresh.  ”Watching good quality beer coming out in an uninterrupted flow for a long while, he noted with great pleasure that it has now become possible to supply more fresh beer to people in all seasons,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency reported.

The beer, named for a river running through Pyongyang, is said to be slightly sweet  with a bitter aftertaste. By 2009, North Korea began airing a three-minute commercial on state television saying the beer, “the Pride of Pyongyang,” relieves stress and improves health and longevity. A sweaty but smiling working man holds aloft a mug of frothy Taedong River Beer as a voice intones, “It represents the new look of Pyongyang. It will be a familiar part of our lives.”

The ads didn’t run for long, and neither did Pyongyang’s efforts to export the beer to South Korea. It’s also not known how easily attainable, or affordable, the beer is for most Koreans, who are known to brew their own, but it does seem to be available in some hotels for cheap.

The elder Kim also played a personal role in convincing OAO Baltika Breweries, Russia’s largest beer company, to begin exporting its No. 5 Gold beer to North Korea in 2007.  Talks began back in 2001, when Kim visited Baltika’s St. Petersburg brewery. He sent engineers there the next year to study brewing methods.

Back in the present day, Paulaner spurned North Korea’s request to build a biergarten and brewery, saying it lacked the capacity because of other expansion efforts elsewhere. No word yet on where the younger Kim will look next for a decent pint.

Top image: People attend a mass rally marking the "day of struggle against U.S. imperialism" at Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang. Reuters

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A Vancouver house designed in a modern style
    POV

    How Cities Get 'Granny Flats' Wrong

    A Vancouver designer says North American cities need bolder policies to realize the potential of accessory dwellings.

  2. Transportation

    Are Electric Vehicles About to Hit a Roadblock?

    With the EV tax credit on the chopping block and Tesla experiencing production delays, dreams of an electric future might prove elusive in the U.S.

  3. An autonomous vehicle drives on a race track in California.
    Equity

    Driverless Cars Won’t Save Us

    In fact, they’ll do the opposite of what techno-optimists hope, and worsen—not ease—inequality.

  4. A scene from Hey Arnold! is pictured.
    Life

    Even Hey Arnold's Neighborhood Is Gentrifying Now

    Series creator Craig Bartlett explains how he built the cartoon city that every ‘90s kid dreamed of living in.

  5. Two men sit in a car at night
    Life

    How a Changing Landscape Brought Down the Mob in Brooklyn

    The mafia's storied New York past has all but vanished.