On brewing, beer, and alcohol in North Korea
Taedonggang beer, brewing, and alcohol in North Korea
Can you drink in North Korea?
One of the many misconceptions about travelling to North Korea is that Koreans don’t drink. Or that it’s forbidden to drink alcohol in North Korea. It’s uncertain where this rumour came from, but there are certainly a lot of myths and misconceptions about this largely unexplored country.
Nevertheless, to clear things up: you can drink alcohol in North Korea.
Local North Koreans can also drink in North Korea.
North Korea even produces its own alcohol, including beer, which is pretty good.
Alcohol in North Korea
There are many different kinds of alcohol in North Korea, just like in many countries.
The most popular ones are beer (맥주 | 麥酒) and soju (소주 | 小酒). Western style wine is not so popular in Korea, however, they do produce sweet fruit wines, as well as wines that go the other way and taste much more like spirits!
Beer is an important part of North Korean culture, and the local Koreans enjoy a pint or two after work at one of the local bars. In fact, beer is provided for free by the government as part of monthly rations given to local Korean people. The North Korean word for 'cheers' is chukbae （축배 | 慶杯), which literally means 'celebratory glass'.
There are various different North Korean beer brews, but the most famous by far is Taedonggang Beer (대동강맥주 | 大同江麥酒). This beer is named after the river that runs through Pyongyang dividing the city between east and west.
Taedonggang North Korean Beer
Going on a tour to North Korea, you will most likely enter through China.
If you’ve ever tasted Chinese beer, you’ll understand that it is not hard to beat. It’s generally about 2.5% and has little more taste than water. Taedonggang beer definitely tastes a lot better than Chinese beer, but that’s certainly not doing justice to this North Korean beer.
Were it readily available all over the world, it would probably be in my top five beers of choice.
(But maybe I’m just too used to Chinese beer?)
Beer from the Taedonggang Brewery is brewed from natural barley and underground water from the Taedonggang River. This is free from environmental pollution so good for “promoting health and longevity of drinkers”. According to a Taedonggang Beer brochure:
Full satisfactory guarantee for the quality and sanitation of the beer have established its fame at home.
The great thing about Taedonggang beer is that there really is a taste for everybody.
There is not one, not two, but seveven different versions of this famous brew - all with different ingredients and very different flavours! All are named creatively according to their number, e.g. Taedonggang No.2.
Let’s have a look at all sevent Taedonggang North Korean beers!
Taedonggang No. 1
100% barley malt
Strong smell of malt and bitterness.
Taedonggang No. 2 (black)
30% white rice
70% barley malt
Refreshing, mild taste. The most popular and common lager.
Taedonggang No. 2 (Gold)
30% white rice
70% barley malt
This is the same brew as the Taedonggang No.2 black label, but the gold label is premium quality and is more expensive. This North Korean beer isn’t pasteurised which means it is great for freshness, but will go off quicker.
Taedonggang No. 3
50% white rice
50% barley malt
Combines tastes of white rice with rich and mild aroma of the malt.
Taedonggang No. 4
70% white rice
30% barley malt
Made with 70% white rice, this beer is considerably less bitter and is suited for those who prefer a mild taste.
Taedonggang No. 5
100% white rice
A very peculiar and unique beer going against the common opinion that beer must be brewed with barley.
Taedonggang No. 6
Dark malt/caramel malt/white rice mix
This beer has a strong coffee flavour and high alcohol content. According to the Taedonggang Beer brochure, this beer is “good for retarding the ageing for its clear effect of antioxidant”.
Taedonggang No. 7
A strong chocolate smell with a mild taste.
Taedonggang Brewery North Korea
In 2000, North Korea acquired a brewery that was originally located in Wiltshire, England.
The Taedonggang Brewery is located in East Pyongyang. Its facilities stretch over tens of thousands of square meters. It is open for foreigners to have a look around only rarely. Below is a short North Korean video on the brewery, showing some of its facilities.
The Taedonggang Brewery is occasionally open for foreigners to have a look around — see below for how you can visit!
Taedonggang beer is available primarily in North Korea, but can also be found in more and more supermarkets and bars in China, especially near the North Korean border and in Beijing.
There are various bars and hotels you can enjoy Taedonggang North Korean beer in. The most popular beer found in most locations is Taedonggang No2. There are certain locations that only sell a certain number, but there are also some bars that offer all seven kinds of Taedonggang. The Mansugyo Beer Bar in Pyongyang also offers a sample taster set of small glasses of each of the Taedonggang North Korean beers.
Koryo Tours North Korea Brewery Industry Tour
If you want to try Taedonggang North Korean beer, what better way then working your way through all of the different numbers on this exclusive North Korea Brewery Industry Tour?
Koryo Tours have put together an educational itinerary designed for beer connoisseurs who are genuinely interested in discovering and learning about the brewery industry in North Korea, its practices, and the North Korean beers the country produces.
Visit North Korea and keep it educational at the same time!
This North Korea Brewery tour offers exclusive access to some places that usually are never open to foreigners - and you may well be amongst some of the first foreigners to ever visit. As well as this, you’ll also hit up all of the must-see spots North Korea has to offer. This includes an extensive city tour around the capital city Pyongyang, and a day trip to the DMZ North - South Korean border.
… As well as much more!
A tour to North Korea will have you saying chukbei as you drink a glass of maekju with the local Koreans in no time!
Koryo Tours recommends all travelers to drink responsibly. Drinking is a major part of social life in Korea among friends indoors and outdoors on some public holidays, however, public displays of drunkenness or rowdy behavior are strongly discouraged.