Beer Scene in Pyongyang (North Korea)
북한 맥주 장면
This country is somewhat off the normal tourist trails and only a few thousand foreigners visit this isolated country in organised groups every year, it is the last true bastion of Marxism.
I reached it earlier this year on what was primarily a railway enthusiast’s tour (Locomotive Club of Great Britain) which toured the northern part of the country by a charter train. Travel to the DPRK was by the overnight train from Beijing which operates alternate days.
The most interesting beers were to be found in the capital, Pyongyang. Advance research had found the brewing equipment from the erstwhile Ushers Brewery (Trowbridge, Wiltshire) had been shipped to Korea around 2001 and was in use at the Taedonggang Brewery on the eastern edge of the city. The brewery is named after the river which flows through the city. A visit had been requested to the brewery, which was declined, but we were invited to visit the tasting room opposite where their no 2 beer was dispensed on draught. A golden beer of 70% barley / 30 % rice mix in the brew. Their bottled beer was widely available through the country and on our special train.
The Koryo Hotel where we stayed had a brewpub on site with a choice of either Black Beer (5.5%) or Yellow Beer (4.8%) brewed in the bar off the main foyer at a remarkable EUR 0.80 per half litre (See photograph left).
Similarly the Yanggakdo Hotel located on an island in the Taedong River brewed 5.0% yellow beer from 100% barley although the price was a more down to earth EUR 2.80. Earlier visits had suggested a wheat beer was brewed but there was no sign of this.
A highlight was a visit to Kyonghung beer bar operated by Taedonggang. Locals were queuing outside to enter. Inside was a large beer hall with tables and no chairs and no smoking. Orders were taken by young ladies from a choice of 7 different types and served on trolleys with savoury nibbles (Please see photograph right). There were 5 golden beers brewed with varying levels of barley / rice and 2 dark beers, one coffee flavoured and the other chocolate. I tried a 100% rice beer which was very refreshing. Despite being told not to take photographs, the manager was very welcoming and encouraged us to take some photos.
We also visited the Taedonggang no 3 bar which appeared to be for international visitors and very smoke filled.
We visited the Rakwon (Paradise) Microbrewery restaurant. A choice of 4.5 abv 100% barley beer or a black beer was offered. Brown beer was also listed but unavailable on our visit.
We had tried some of their bottled beer earlier in the week at Mahon while eating freshly grilled mussels on the beach.
Note that all beer was actually priced in local North Korean Currency but foreigners are generally charged in Euros. There was a short delay in settling our bar bill at the Koryo while the latest exchange rate was obtained! Prices shown are for 0.5l.
All facilities were organised by David Thompson of Juche Travel Services, Weybridge.
A note: This article first appeared in Marsh Mash, the newsletter of the CAMRA Ashford and Romney March branch. It is felt that it is of such importance it should not be lost. It is reproduced with the Editor’s permission.
Bob Thompson (BeerVisits)