Thursday, 7 Dec 2023

UK brewery shipped brick by brick to North Korea honoured as top business

North Korea is not the first country – a conservative estimate by any means – that comes to mind in the global rankings of beer production, but it seems to be working hard to change that.

The Taedonggang Beer Factory, which first opened doors in Pyongyang some 21 years ago, was honoured as one of the top ten businesses in the secretive state.

The regime’s quest to brew decent beer began in 2000.

After scouring Europe for a suitable plant, talks kicked off with Ushers brewery of Britain about acquiring their site in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, which had shut down.

The North Koreans took apart the brewery, shipping it brick by brick piece to the capital and reassembled it under the banner of its Taedonggang Beer Factory.

Decades later, the factory was praised for its contribution to ‘the five-year plan for national economic development’ alongside other firms, The Telegraph reported.

The sale was only permitted after the British government was assurances that the machinery could not be converted to produce chemical weapons.

Gary Todd, who had been head brewer at Ushers before it folded, found himself in the unlikely scenario of training up North Korean staff so the plant could be rebuilt 5,200 miles away.

‘I had to effectively give them a crash course in brewing and we spent a lot of time going over the basics, but it seems that they got it because they are up and running over there now’, Mr Todd said.

Mr Todd said he had been able to check on the brewery’s progress a few years ago, when a British journalist brought him back a bottle of its beer from a visit to North Korea.

‘I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised because I was not sure what they were using for their brewing materials,’ he added.

‘It was slightly oxidised, but the flavour was pretty good, it was quite nice.’

The beer is said to have won ‘great public favor’ and has even built up following in China and South Korea.

It is described to be a full-bodied lager a little on the sweet side, with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Taedonggang’s origin story is said to begin with Kim Jong-il, who was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Un, whose fondness for expensive brandy and wines was well known.

In June 2002, the former leader toured the brewery after it started running again.

‘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,’ the North Korean state-run news agency, KCNA, said of Kim’s tour.

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