North Korea Looking to Makkoli Business

Daily NK
Hwang Ju Hee
6/7/2010

Showing Pyongyang’s desire to reach new markets, Uriminzokkiri (Being amongst Our Nation), a website managed by the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, recently covered “Rakbaek Makkoli,” taking its lead from an article published in the latest issue of monthly domestic publication “Deungdae” (Lighthouse).

Makkoli is a traditional Korean drink made from fermented rice which has its roots in agricultural areas. Recently it has experienced a resurgence of popularity in South Korea.

The Uriminzokkiri report explained of the North Korean makkoli, “The makkoli produced by Rakwon Department Store in Pyongyang is a healthy beverage and good to drink. It is consumed internationally as well as domestically.”

Given that Uriminzokkiri is targeted at South Koreans, the appearance of “Rakbaek Makkoli” looks like an attempt to profit from the thriving South Korean makkoli business.

Although North Korea has exported “Pyongyang Soju” to the U.S., Japan and China in the past, consumers didn’t take to it due to its expensive price and strong taste. Therefore, North Korea may be looking to makkoli.

One defector, who used to be involved in trade in North Korea, explained in an interview with The Daily NK, “Bottled makkoli is thought of as a luxury beverage, but the general populace can drink it only on holidays when the state distributes it.”

He added, “But the common people, especially those who live in agricultural areas, brew their own with spoiled rice or bread and yeast. Cadres don’t usually drink this.”

The South Korean makkoli industry is thriving under the influence of a South Korean cultural wave which is in evidence in Japan, China, Taiwan and even as far away as the U.S. The most famous traditional makkoli, which is made in the southwest provinces of South Korea, has recently begun to be produced for export, while marketing men in Seoul recently hit upon calling makkoli “Drunken Rice” in an attempt to forge an international makkoli brand image.

To that end, makkoli has been promoted several times at summits and other international events by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak.

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