Can you drink in North Korea? Can North Koreans drink? These are just some of the questions we veterans of the DPRK get asked on a regular basis. Let’s get to some North Korea myth-busting: here’s our guide to the beer of Pyongyang and North Korea.
Can you drink in North Korea?
One of the biggest misconceptions from foreigners that have never visited the DPRK is that there is a prohibition on drinking. To the contrary, and much like in South Korea, beer and soju are very important aspects of North Korean culture.
In fact, North Koreans receive part of their monthly rations in beer! They’re entitled to 5 litres of free beer each month.
When you travel to North Korea, having a chat over a few beers with your local guides is indeed a rewarding experience.
What is the microbrewery scene like in North Korea?
Micro-brewing is a big thing in North Korea, with the ale served in the tea shop of the Yanggakdo International Hotel, or at the Koryo Hotel being particularly famous. There’s also renowned brews being served at the Rakwon Paradise Bar and even at the Kwangbok Supermarket, where the local brew will set you back less than 20 cents. It is also possible to snap up microbrewed North Korean beer cans from some stores.
How about Taedonggang Beer?
When you travel to North Korea, you’ll most likely be doing it via train or flight from China. Chinese beer is notoriously weak and not all that good! The first beer you are likely to try when entering North Korea is Taedongang, and if you’ve been subject to weak Chinese beer for any prolonged period of time, it comes as a godsend.
In fact Taedonggang is genuinely just a good beer, and in my humble opinion, at least, is better than beers from the South even (not that hard when your competition is Cass).
Taedonggang beer is produced from naturally grown North Korean barley and water from the underground tributaries of the Taedonggang. Now, whilst the most famous incarnation of Taedonggang Beer comes in the big green bottle (or can) we have all come to love, it does, in fact, come in a whopping 7 different flavours.
Taedonggang No. 1
A malty, bitter brew comprised of 100% barley malt, this one is not for the Foster’s drinkers out there.
Taedonggang No. 2
A mild and tasty beer comprised of 30% rice and 70% barley malt, this is one of the more popular beers amongst tourists due to its accessible flavour. It comes in ‘black’ and ‘gold’ variations, with the latter being ‘premium’ and therefore slightly more expensive. It’s worth comparing the two.
Taedonggang No. 3
A 50/50 mix of rice and barley malt, the greater proportion of rice in this beer means that it’s considerably milder than numbers 1 and 2.
Taedonggang No. 4
And the rice keeps on coming! At 70% rice and 30% barley, this is not nearly as bitter as the malty heights of No. 1 and is perfect for those wanting a milder taste.
Taedonggang No. 5
Who said that beer needed malt? 100% rice. No. 5 has a very strange taste and isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly worth trying when in North Korea.
Taedonggang No. 6
A chocolatey dark beer containing both dark malt and rice, the North Koreans recommend this beer due its antioxidant contents.
Taedonggang No. 7
Brewed using only dark malt, this beer has a strong chocolate aroma and a mild taste.
Where can I drink North Korean beer?
The most obvious place, clearly, is in the DPRK. However, the beer is becoming more and more widely available in Dandong, or along the Chinese border. Our Borderlands tour, for instance, offers plenty of opportunities to try it.
In North Korea, outside of the microbrewery where you can sample the full range of Taedonggang beers, you’ll generally be able to buy both varieties of No. 2 by the bottle in most restaurants and at your hotel bar.