Fake North Korean beer brewed in China to evade sanctions

Chinese entrepreneurs have teamed up with North Korean government officials to brew a fake version of a beer that can trace its heritage back to Trowbridge in Wiltshire.

Taedonggang beer is the most popular brew in North Korea and the brand had built up a firm following abroad, primarily in China but also in South Korea, before international sanctions halted shipments that served as an important money-spinner for the regime.

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With the government in Pyongyang desperate to raise hard cash for its weapons programmes, it appears that one of the North’s organisations tasked with acquiring funds has struck a deal with a company with a factory outside the Chinese city of Dandong to produce a knock-off version, Radio Free Asia reported.

“The shape of the bottle and even the taste are similar to genuine Taedonggang Beer, but beer experts can distinguish the difference in taste”, a source in Dandong told the broadcaster. “But the taste is very close to that of the genuine product, so ordinary people cannot tell the difference”.

The fake beer is being sold to restaurants and karaoke bars, with anyone curious as to how the beer is available in China being told that it is being smuggled over the border from North Korea.

A waitress carrying jugs of beer to guests before the opening of the Pyongyang Taedonggang Beer Festival on the banks of the TaedongCredit:

Despite being priced at £2.80 a bottle – more than four times the cost of a Chinese beer – the fake Taedonggang is selling well, the sources claim, almost certainly thanks in part to the claims that it is being brought into China surreptitiously.

The brewery producing the genuine beer is still operating in Pyongyang, producing four different ales, including a brown ale and a Pilsner-style lager that has been described as full-bodied but a little on the sweet side and with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

The beer is named after the Taedong River, which flows through Pyongyang, and uses barley and rice from South Hwanghae Province and hops from Ryanggang Province.

Its roots, however, are distinctly British.

The North Korean government decided in 2000 to start producing a high-quality range of beers, but lacked the experience to do so. Their solution was to acquire a foreign brewery, so Pyongyang purchased a redundant plant that had belonged to Ushers of Trowbridge for £1.5 million.

After satisfying international concerns that the plant would not be used to manufacture chemicals for weapons, the brewery was dismantled and shipped to Pyongyang, where it was rebuilt with the addition of German-made computerised brewing control technology.  

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