Archive for the ‘Alcohol’ Category

Tadonggang Beer commercial

Friday, July 3rd, 2009


Click on image to see advert

The BBC offers what is hailed as the first Taedonggang Beer commercial. According to the article:

In a rare nod to commercial motives in the resolutely communist nation, the TV advert features a thirsty worker holding a mug of frothy beer.

Young women in traditional Korean dress are shown serving trays of beer to men in Western suits.

Billed as the “Pride of Pyongyang”, the advert promises drinkers that the beer will help ease stress.

“It represents the new look of Pyongyang,” the two-and-a-half minute advert says. “It will be a familiar part of our lives.”

Taedonggang Beer Factory has been making the brew since buying a British brewery and shipping it lock, stock and barrel from the UK in 2002.

The beer has been occasionally available in South Korea and is said to be of high quality.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said to have a fondness for fine wines and brandy, has taken a personal interest in the brewery.

“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 state news agency, KCNA, said after he visited the brewery in 2002.

The DPRK did allow a ten minute “infomercial” to be made about Taedonggang Beer (probably by the Chongryun).  You can see it here:


Click on image to see video

Here is a previous post on the beer.

Here is the location of the Taedongggang Brewery.

The full article can be found here:
North Korea launches beer advert


North Korea on Google Earth v.18

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered version 18 is available.  This Google Earth overlay maps North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, markets, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks.

This project has now been downloaded over 140,000 times since launching in April 2007 and received much media attention last month following a Wall Street Journal article highlighting the work.

Note: Kimchaek City is now in high resolution for the first time.  Information on this city is pretty scarce.  Contributions welcome.

Additions to this version include: New image overlays in Nampo (infrastructure update), Haeju (infrastructure update, apricot trees), Kanggye (infrastructure update, wood processing factory), Kimchaek (infrastructure update). Also, river dredges (h/t Christopher Del Riesgo), the Handure Plain, Musudan update, Nuclear Test Site revamp (h/t Ogle Earth), The International School of Berne (Kim Jong un school), Ongjin Shallow Sea Farms, Monument to  “Horizon of the Handure Plain”, Unhung Youth Power Station, Hwangnyong Fortress Wall, Kim Ung so House, Tomb of Kim Ung so, Chungnyol Shrine, Onchon Public Library, Onchon Public bathhouse, Anbyon Youth Power Stations.


North Korea’s continuing social change

Friday, June 20th, 2008

The Daily NK posted a fascinating interview with a local North Korean merchant.  He provides interesting anecdotes of everyday life:

Tongil Market (Featured in A State of Mind):

Nowadays, the way to survive is selling in the jangmadang (market). With the exception of the residents of the Joong-district and its vicinity, who are often mobilized to national events, seven out of 10 households do business in the jangmadang. In the Pyongyang Tongil (unification) Market alone, the number of people doing business is between 5,000~6,000 people. The size of a street-stand is approximately 50cm by 50cm large. There are also about 2,000 people selling outside of the market.”

“There are people also selling in the alleyways. The Tongil Market usually consists of people from the Tongil Street, so merchants from the other regions cannot do business there. In the Tongil Market alone, there are around 8,000 people [doing business]. Because the Market is so large, the cadres from the other regions frequently come to buy goods.”

Even in North Korea, capital enhances worker productivity: 

Mr. A said that in the markets, the sale of industrial goods (all kinds of products such as clothing brought from China) and cosmetics are supposed to be lucrative. The traders usually bring in about 5,000 won per day and 15,000 won per month. Such an amount of money can buy about 2kg of rice per day. The people who make a lot of money are the marine product merchants. They make around 7,000~8,000 won per day. Marine products are often purchased by officials who have money and rice.

The people in the lowest class do not have the capital to do business, so a majority of them sell noodles or food. They make about 1,500 won per day, which can purchase about a kilogram of corn. People who sell food sell rice, sidedishes, and snacks on site. To them, selling is a battle to survive.

Coping mechanisms:

Mr. A relayed that not-so-affluent households raise several domestic cattle, collect medicinal herbs or brew liquor to sell. The remnants of the liquor are used as livestock feed. Selling two bottles of liquor made of corn as raw material generates about 500 won in profit. However, the authorities have strictly been regulating brewing liquor in homes, resulting in difficult situations. If exposed for making liquor, both the person-in-charge and the People’s Party Unit chairman are banished to the countryside.

Beekeeping is seasonally supposed to be lucrative. In May when the acacia flowers start to bloom, the number of people who collect honey in the mountains increases. In the surrounding areas of Pyongyang, there are at least trees on the mountains, so beekeeping has been feasible. One person can collect about 100kg of honey per month by keeping around 15 beehives. The honey is usually consumed by people who want to use it in medicine or by officials.

Work overseas:

“The utmost goal of workers in Pyongyang is to go to another country to earn money. Recently, they have even gone to the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once they leave, they do not return for three years. They can go back or stay in Pyongyang. Workers who have gone to Russia or to Congo for farming come back with 10,000~20,000 dollars in three years.”

“With that money, they can buy a house and prepare a significant amount of capital for business. Those who have gone abroad not only do the work ordered by organizations, but also engage in private farming, do business and save as much money as they can. There have been a quite a few people around me who have gone abroad recently to make money this way. Out of 100 male workers, there is at least one or two. In order to go overseas, one has to pay 300~400 dollars in bribes.”

Read the full article here:
Doing Business Is a Battle
Daily NK 
Jung Kwon Ho


Soju in America update…

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

This site has covered the strange saga of Park il Woo (Steve Park), Korean entrepreneur and spy, who has been spearheading efforts to bring DPRK soju into the United States (History: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

This week, Joseph Goldstein, Staff Reporter of the New York Sun, picks up the story and fills us in on Mr. Park’s prosecution, conviction, and future plans. 

Here are the story’s bullet points:

1. Park was being paid by South Korean officials and providing them with updates about his business trips to North Korea.  He pleaded guilty to lying to lying to FBI agents about his relationship with these South Korean officials. (NKeconWatch: I am not sure if the charge was lying to the FBI or of being an unregistered foreign agent–or both).

2. William Pauley III, U.S. District Court in Manhattan, sentenced him 18 months’ probation, though the crime carries a maximum penalty of five years.  Shortly after pleading guilty, prosecutors for the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office agreed to lift a prohibition that barred him from contacting the South Korean officials for whom he was accused of spying.

3. Jennifer Rodgers (prosecutor’s office) gave her permission to allow Park to travel to North Korea “on business” for two weeks beginning May 30, according to court papers filed by Park’s attorney.  Court documents don’t mention the nature of the business that Park intends to conduct while in North Korea. But it is likely connected to Park’s long-standing efforts to import North Korean soju, a liquor made from corn and rice, into America.

And what lies ahead for Mr. Park…

Park’s import company, Korea PyongYang Trading U.S.A., is partnering with a New Jersey company, Tang’s Liquor Wholesale, to distribute the drink across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland, according to Korean press reports.

Bottles of Pyongyang Soju are expected to retail for just more than $10. The drink is made in a factory North Korea’s capital and uses water pumped up from more than 500 feet underground, Yonhap reported.

Park told Yonhap that it was the first product North Korea actively sought to export to America. He said he would soon try to import North Korean beer as well, according to Yonhap.

So it looks like the DPRK is admitting a known South Korean spy into the country for the purposes of boosting exports… 

The whole story is worth reading here:
Bizarre Turn Seen in Case of Korea Spy
The New York Sun
Joseph Goldstein


Just in time for the weekend: DPRK soju arrives in New Jersey

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

UPDATE: According to the Choson Ilbo:

Exports to the U.S. of the North Korean liquor Pyongyang Soju have been halted due to a lack of interest from consumers, Radio Free Asia reported Tuesday. Tang Kap-jeung of importer Tang’s Liquor Wholesales in Flushing, New York, told RFA, “There was some interest at first because people were curious, but the poor taste led to dwindling orders and we stopped imports a year ago.”

Customers in the U.S. enjoy South Korean soju, which is smoother and odorless, and nine out of 10 people said the North Korean variety was not to their taste, he added.

He said the price tag of the North Korean liquor at US$3.75 a bottle due to special tariffs was another factor behind the poor sales. 

Sales of Pyongyang Soju began in 2008 primarily in New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Maryland and California, RFA said. Export versions of the soju are also sold in China and Japan. 

ORIGINAL POST: According to Yonhap, North Korean Soju has finally (again?) landed in New Jersey (h/t One Free Korea):

The first shipment of North Korean-made liquor to the United States has arrived in New York and will go on sale as soon as it clears customs, the importer said Wednesday.

Tang Gap-jeung, head of Tang’s Liquor Wholesale, which is in charge of U.S. distribution, told Yonhap that 1,660 boxes of Pyongyang Soju arrived Tuesday. Each box has 24 bottles of liquor made from corn, rice and glutinous rice flour. (Yonhap)

This is not the first time that someone has tried to import North Korean soju into the US (part 1 of the story here).  Unfortunately, that effort came to an end when the entrepreneur who launched the venture was arrested for being an unregistered South Korean spy (again, h/t One Free Korea).  The fate of the soju went unreported.

Mr. Tang is probably not importing the “adder soju” (with a dead snake in the bottle), which is absolutely vile, but worth the money just to keep in the liquor cabinet for show.  Adder soju aside, North Korea can make some tasty liquor, so if you want to try something new this weekend, here is where you can pick some up (call first and make sure the shipment has cleared customs):

Tang’s Liquor Wholesale of NJ
530 Church St
Ridgefield, NJ 07657
(201) 313-8800

The full story can be read here:
N.K. liquor import arrives in New York


North Korea cracks down on moonshine…

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

According to the Daily NK:

An inside North Korean source relayed that North Korean authorities have stepped up its regulations of  “home-brewed wine production and sales” with the purpose of eradicating the food waste by citizens.

Party Inspection Units are looking for all kinds of food waste (marriages, sixtieth-birthday anniversaries, sacrificial rites, and dinners among leaders), but liquor producers and distributors are on the list of targets.  Propaganda is being fed to local workers, extolling them not to waste food, and in order to minimize any bribery or favoritism, inspectors are being called from neighboring provinces.

Those prosecuted in the inspections have been levied fines and all of their liquor and materials confiscated (and I really doubt they are pouring it down drains).

Read the whole story here:
North Korea’s Inspection of Home-Brewed Wine by the Party
Daily NK
Jung Kwon Ho


North Korea home brews…

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Where do North Koreans get their alcohol?  The Daily NK has the scoop:

North Korean citizens started producing/distributing home-brewed liquor in 1987 after the prohibition of the production and sale of liquor in North Korea was lifted. 

Liquor made in the home of an average North Korean citizen consists of ingredients such as corn or rice and malt. The yeast cultivated from rice powder is combined with porridge prepared from the powder and fermented in a vat. After 12~14 days, the rice porridge and the yeast will produce a chemical reaction and will turn into a thick porridge, which is called “liquor porridge” in North Korea.

Refrigerating the steam from the cultivated liquor porridge and turning it into fluid produces liquor. North Korean citizens enjoy over 40% of alcohol content-liquor and approximately 800ml of liquor is produced from a kilogram of corn. A bottle of liquor (500 ml) is close to the price of a kilogram of corn, so selling liquor made from this produce can bring in a small profit.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Inspection of Home-Brewed Wine by the Party
Daily NK
Jung Kwon Ho


Taedonggang Brewery…

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Reuters has a write up of my favorite North Korean beverage, Taedonggang Beer:

North Korea’s quest to produce decent beer began in earnest in 2000 when it started talks with Britain’s Ushers brewery about acquiring its Trowbridge, Wiltshire plant that had ceased operations.

The North Koreans took apart the brewery that had been producing country ales for about 180 years, shipped it piece by piece to Pyongyang and reassembled it under the banner of its Taedonggang Beer Factory.

By April 2002, it was up and running. In June 2002, the North’s leader Kim Jong-il, known for his fondness of expensive brandy and wines, went on a brewery tour.

“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 said.

Taedonggang beer, named for a river that runs through Pyongyang, is a full-bodied lager a little on the sweet side, with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Still not the choice of locals:

Taedonggang is one of several brews in North Korea and it has quickly become the top brand, according to foreigners living in the reclusive country.

Park Myung-jin, of distributor Vintage Korea which used to sell the beer in the South, said the North’s leader Kim wanted a showpiece brewery.

“They used the best quality material without thinking of the production cost,” Park said. He stopped selling the beer in the South in 2007 due largely to a sudden price hike.

The North taps into overseas markets for ingredients, Park said. It has abundant supplies of fresh water because its hobbled factories do not produce enough to cause pollution problems.

Beer is not the drink of choice for most North Koreans, who prefer cheaper rice-based liquor that packs a big punch.

Dont expect to see it in your local pub:

But do not expect to see Taedonggang or any North Korean beer invading overseas markets any time soon.

North Korea may have solved the riddle of making a robust beer but it has not completely solved the problem of bottling it.

The brewery has occasional trouble sealing bottles properly and the glass it uses is fragile.

The transport system in North Korea is also a mess, making it unlikely that the beer can become one of the few legitimate exports from a country shunned by the developed world for its defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons and a human rights record cited by the United States as one of the world’s worst.

The full article can be found here:
North Korean beer: great taste, low proliferation risk
Jon Herskovitz


“Special provisions are not necessary. Just do not regulate the markets”

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

market.jpgAt its height, North Korea’s socialist infrastructure was responsible for the vast majority of the people’s standard of living.  Ration coupons and large purchases (such as for a car or refrigerator) were all provided through one’s employer.  This is because society was vertically integrated, with state-owned companies and ministries providing a broad array of social services that are handled by a variety of agents in a capitalist society (food, housing, education, childcare, health care etc..). There was little room for markets, or even prices, in people’s lives.

Although this system only worked for North Koreans in large urban areas, and excluded those in smaller villages and the country side who were much more dependent on themselves, for the vast majority of North Koreans today that system (or social contract) is a distant memory.  Out of fiscal necessity it has been chiseled away over the years, and as a result the scope for individual entrepreneurship in both the public and private spheres is increasing.  I do not want to give the impression that capitalism is running wild, but when compared to the past, the control of the North Korean state over the lives of its people is diminished.

One practice which has been retained to some degree, however, is the distribution of gifts or special provisions on the birthdays of the two leaders, Kim il Sung and Kim Jong il.  The scale of one’s gift, however, allegedly depends on one’s rank in society.  A common farmer might get a new pair of socks.  A senior Worker’s Party official probably receives a good deal more.  One estimate puts the value of these special gifts at USD$20m

The origins of these gifts are mixed.  Some are donated by foreignersSome are imported by the leadershipOthers are made domestically by the people themselves.

According to a story in today’s Daily NK, creeping marketization – bringing with it an increase in price and quality discrimination,  has left many North Korean consumers less than impressed with this year’s gift offerings:

A North Korean source in Shinuiju said in a phone conversation on the 17th, “When looking at the goods provided this time around, the quality has gone up as a whole in contrast to the past. However, the citizens did not attach too much significance to the ‘Great General’s gift’ as in the past.”

The source relayed the public sentiment as “Goods more valuable than his gifts are all over the place in the jangmadang. A portion of the people has said, ‘Special provisions are not necessary. Just do not regulate the markets.'”

In Shinuiju, a bottle of luxury liquor, 2kg of tangerine, and two pheasants were provided to the party organization through the “special provision’ and a bottle of liquor and a modest amount of fruits such as apples and tangerines were given to regular organizations. The People’s Units received a bottle of liquor, a toothbrush, and a bar of soap and pre-school and elementary school students received five pieces of gum, two rice crackers, two packs of chips, and one pack of candy.

The source added, “Those receiving the ‘title of hero’ and the Secretaries in charge of the county parties were given boxes marked with the label ‘gift,’ but its contents are uncertain.”

Another source in Hoiryeong in a phone conversation on this day said, “A bottle of liquor, a bar of soap, and a bottle of toothpaste were provided through the February 16th holiday provision and the children received a pack of candy, two packs of chips, a pack of pea candy, two packs of rice crackers, and seven pieces of gum.”

He also expressed discontent, saying, “It is pitiful to have to wait in line in front of the stores through which provisions are handed out for a mere bottle of liquor and soap.”

In the Hyesan, Yangkang Province region, laborers working at state enterprises were given 3kg of Annam rice (wild rice) and a bottle of liquor and oil were given to average households.

North Korea, in time for Kim Jong Il’s birthday in 2007, provided around 10 food items and daily necessities, including liquor and beer, cider and rice tally, oil, chips, and gum, to civilians.

In 2007, 200g of chips, 200g of candy, 100g of rice snacks, and five pieces of gum were given to elementary school students. Due to the shortage in foreign currency, special provisions were not offered to average civilians.

A caveat to this story is that all of the data points are from the large cities on the Chinese border.  These cities have benefited the most from trade with China and in all likelihood are the most “ideologically contaminated” in the DPRK.  

Jangmadang Goods Are More Valuable Than the General’s Gifts
Daily NK
Choi Choel Hee


North Korean Teenagers’ Drinking & Dating during the Farm Supporting Activity

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

The ethics of youth regarding sex has always been a noticeable issue in all societies. It is the same in North Korea. The fear of the youth misdemeanor is worried by both South and North Koreas.

The North Korean defectors claim that the most frequently asked question since they’ve been here was whether North Korean youth also dated.

North Korea is a place with people as well. Like all other societies, personal problems of love, hate, conflicts and atonement exist. However, due to the restriction of freedom, there is also limitation on human relationships that cannot be made single-handedly.

The North Korean youth also date. While it was forbidden to date back in the 1960s and 1970s, with the changing era, the restriction on dating has disappeared as well.

According to the North Korean defectors, the trend of dating by the youth has initiated in the main cities of North Korea from the late 1980s.

The normalization of the teenagers’ dating was from the 1990s. The coeducational school became the wildfire that incurred the trend of public dating for all middle school students in North Korea.

The differentiation of girls and boys school was changed by the single statement of Kim Il Sung.

“It is quite distressing that there is a barrier between North and South, why should we have a barrier between men and women,” encouraging all differentiation of gender to disappear in all schools nationwide. Hence then, the official names of differentiating gender on official school names have disappeared.

According to a North Korean defector Park Myung Gil (pseudonym), “In middle school, in the age of 16, it is very important for students to have a girlfriend and also participate in the gang fight.” Unless you were stupid, these two things were very important for all students.” 1990s was an era where gang fights between schools and villages were rampant.

Month-long Farm Supporting Activity Is another Factor

Park stated that, “When we go onto farm supporting activity, it is easier for us to date the female students. The fellow students would pay a visit to the dormitory of the girl until she said yes.”

Middle school students in the age range of 14 to 15 go out to the field to help farming. They go out for 40 days in spring and 15-20 days in the autumn to participate for the farm supporting activity. It is during this phase that they learn how to smoke and drink.

They gather around to drink and smoke after their fieldwork is over at night time. When you don’t participate in this night gathering, you become isolated and rejected from the crowd. Although this is supposedly done in secrecy, the teachers, even when they are aware of this, turn a blind eye to the students.

While there are many similarities between the North and the South Korean students, there are also many differences. The North Korean students drink with their teachers. They usually take a bottle of alcohol to their students and drink with them out of good will. While it is hard to imagine such things happening in South Korea, the students do not get in trouble for drinking in North Korea.

When these students participate in the long term farm supporting activity, there are accidents that follow. There are many cases of female students’ impregnation after their field-work term.

The current teenagers of North Korea are surely much more free and independent. As a result of China-North Korea trade, with the influx of cheap VCR disseminated nationwide, this would play a crucial role in liberalizing the minds of these youth. However, the sentiments felt by their parents, regardless of that be North or South, must be along the line of anxiety and worry.