A fairly remarkable surprise when you visit North Korea for the first time would have to be the variety of alcoholic drinks available here. There are some excellent beers in North Korea and there is plenty of it around. Here is our pick of favourite beers available in North Korea, in and around Pyongyang bars and restaurants today.
Taedonggang 1 (ABV 4.5%, Pale Lager) – One of seven beers produced by the famous Taedonggang Brewery in Pyongyang, North Korea. Unlike many other neighbouring Asian countries, much of the beer in North Korea is brewed using barley rather than rice which makes for a much more flavoursome beer that is more European in style, taste and colour (not that we wanted something more European, but it’s a damn sight better than South Korean Cass or Hite for example) Taedonggang 1 is light in colour with notes of honey, lemon and corn with a not overly sweet taste and good depth of flavour.
Rather famously, the brewing equipment used to establish the Taedonggang Brewery was purchased by the North Korean government back in 2000 from the former UK label, Ushers of Trowbridge for £1.5M. This gave North Korea the opportunity to begin producing beer on a more macro scale, coupled with modern German brewing technology. Due to sanctions imposed on the country, it would most likely not have been possible for North Korea to obtain such equipment just a few years later. Each beer produced by the brewery is simply named Taedonggang 1, through 7!
The Taedonggang Beer Festival which is a new addition to Pyongyang City and is North Korea’s equivalent of Oktoberfest. It takes place on the banks of the Taedong River and was covered by all the major international news outlets in 2016. Drop us a line if you would like to visit the festival this year.
Rakwon (ABV 4.5%, Black Beer) This is one of our personal favourites and is produced at one of the countries many microbreweries, with Rakwon being poured from the taps at the Paradise Brewery in Pyongyang. This is not as black as a stout but still has a rather dark appearance with a light liquorice, coffee aroma with a strong earthy root flavour. This is one of four brews produced by the brewery, in addition to two lagers and an additional dark beer. This piece could have focused on any one of them, as they are all excellent.
Beer production is North Korea has probably become more micro than macro these days and most visitors are pretty stunned to see the microbrewing culture that exists here. You can sample Rakwon (by the litre if you want) at the breweries bar where the large copper vats are set up behind the counter. Foreign visitors mix with locals and NGO workers here and it’s a great atmosphere, it’s these sort of moments that will really stick with you after you leave North Korea. One of our favourite bars in Pyongyang for sure.
Yanggakdo Hotel Draught Beer (ABV 5%, Golden Blonde Ale) Another excellent beer to enjoy while in Pyongyang (where the hotel is located). The draught has an almost amber, slightly cloudy appearance with a good head. There is a floral aroma to this one and for anyone that has drunk Hoegaarden for example, it is similar but very much it’s own personality. There are hints of banana and sweet toffee which is balanced out by a grassy nature.
The Yanggakdo Hotel is one of the more famous hotels in Pyongyang and it is located on an island with amazing views across the city, especially at sunrise, sunset and twilight. There is a revolving restaurant on the top floor and the standard of accommodation here is excellent. It is the base for many of our tours and the Yanggakdo Hotel bar is a great place to drink a few pints and chat with other visitors hanging out here.
Those are just three of our favourite beers produced in North Korea but there are an ever-increasing amount of additions to what is becoming an increasingly rich microbrewing scene in North Korea and not only in Pyongyang either. There are more bars and restaurants opening all the time and many of them produce their own product, each of which the North Koreans put a lot of care and dedication into, so there are some excellent North Korean beers to be sampled on each/day night of any trip to the country.
Due to improved transportation around North Korea, beer is more widely available across the country than before via better distribution networks. For foreigners, prices start at around 50 cents a pint (including Rakwon) going up to around $2.50 for 1.5-litre options. North Korean citizens can access government provided beer allowances of a few litres each month. The culture in that sense is more reminiscent of western nations in times gone by (50’s/60’s Ireland for example) with the burgeoning beer drinking and bar scene being mostly male-dominated for locals, the same does not apply for our guests obviously!