Alcoholic beverages in North Korea (2023)

#Korea today and tomorrow you2023-01-25

Korea today and tomorrow

Alcoholic beverages in North Korea (1)ⓒ KBS News

Koreans traditionally celebrate Seollal on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar as the beginning of the New Year. In the early morning of the Lunar New Year, people hold special services in memory of ancestors called "charye". The ancestral rite is followed by the "sebae", the act of young people bowing deeply to their elders. The daily menu includes rice cake soup called “tteokguk”. It is believed that people age one year when they eat a bowl of tteokguk during the day.

Lunar New Year celebrations in North Korea are not much different from those in South Korea. On Lunar New Year's Day, North Koreans perform sebae, exchange greetings and, interestingly, drink a lot. This is why Seollal is also called “Sullal” which means “drinking day” in the north. We can't help but wonder what kind of liquor North Koreans like.

Today we will learn about alcoholic beverages in North Korea from Professor Jeon Young-seon of the Institute of Humanities and Unification at Konkuk University.

(Video) Trying North Korean Alcohol | The Fresh Prince of Pyongyang

North Korea banned Lunar New Year celebrations, calling them holdovers from feudal society, until 1989, when Lunar New Year was restored as a traditional holiday. Since 2003, the country has observed a three-day Lunar New Year holiday. On this happy occasion, North Koreans, who live in relatively cold regions, enjoy hard spirits.

Many North Koreans drink a lot. On Lunar New Year's Day, they drink heavily after performing the ancient ritual of charye (차례), wishing them good health and good luck. North Koreans like high alcohol spirits that will make them feel quite drunk.

On April 27, 2018, the eyes of the world were on the truce village of Panmunjom on the inter-Korean border. Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to step onto South Korean soil by crossing the military demarcation line. Kim then had a historic meeting with then South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

After the North Korean leader mentioned ice noodles, or naengmyeon, attention was drawn to the two leaders' table.

At that time, the South Korean side prepared two types of traditional alcoholic beverages, namely myeoncheon dugyeonju and munbaeju. Known for its delicate fragrance, the former is made from azalea petals and glutinous rice. The latter, munbaeju, has a long thousand-year history, dating back to the Goryeo Dynasty. It was initially made in North Korea's Pyongan Province, but has now established itself as one of the best spirits in South Korea.

Another inter-Korean summit between Moon and Kim took place in Pyongyang in September of the same year, when Pyongyang Soju was placed at the leaders' table. Soju is the traditional Korean distilled liquor.

As North Korea's signature liquor, Pyongyang Soju is produced at the Taedonggang Food Factory. It comes in three types: Pyongyang Soju, Pyongyang Liquor, and Goryeo Liquor. Pyongyang liquor ranges from 30 to 40 percent strength. The best known is Pyongyang Soju with an alcohol content of 25 percent. In 2014 it obtained the “Quality Medal 15 December”, which distinguishes the best quality products in the country. Sales of Pyongyang Soju began in the US in 2008, piquing Americans' curiosity for the drink from the lonely north. But exports of the liqueur to the US have been halted for a variety of reasons, including customs procedures.

Pyongyang Soju is featured as the national liquor of North Korea in the publication National Symbols of Korea issued by the Academy of Social Sciences in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the regime on September 9, 2018. Under the instructions of former leader Kim Jong - il to designate fine liquor on behalf of the country, North Korea carried out a research project.

After Kim Jong-un came to power, Pyongyang Soju was chosen as the national liquor as the leader said it tastes better and people love it. On the surface, it is stamped with a mark that indicates "Korea's fine liquor".

(Video) Alcohol without the hangover in North Korea

All of North Korea's national symbols have episodes involving the leader. The President said that the national drink should be a good quality drink for the enjoyment of all citizens, not an expensive and luxurious drink to be consumed only by the upper class. North Korea claims the general public can enjoy the national drink thanks to the leader's love for his people.

In reality, however, the name of the national drink has a lot to do with economics. Under the principle of self-sufficiency, North Korea discourages people from using anything foreign: tobacco, alcohol and clothing. Instead, the country seeks to develop the domestic market, provide people with locally produced goods, and export its products abroad. As for liquor, very few North Korean brands are known to the outside world. Pyongyang Soju has attracted special attention in the US for some time. So a North Korean product labeled “domestic” can arouse curiosity, and the country sometimes employs this strategy.

Each country has its own unique and traditional liquor. Some countries designate their traditional alcoholic beverage as cultural heritage. Likewise, South Korea has designated three local spirits as national intangible cultural heritage. They are myeoncheon dugyeonju, munbaeju and liquor produced in Gyo-dong in Gyeongju city.

In North Korea, intangible cultural heritage is known as intangible cultural heritage. North Korea has also listed the making skills of several traditional liquors, including gamhongro and iganggo, along with making makgeolli, on the intangible cultural heritage list. Makgeolli is the traditional rice wine with milk.

While South Korea added drinks with long traditions to the intangible cultural heritage list, North Korea designated traditional drinks that were enjoyed by commoners as intangible cultural heritage. Makgeolli is a cloudy Korean rice wine. The name literally means that the liquor is passed through a coarse filter. In North Korea, ordinary citizens enjoy this in their daily lives.

A North Korean media outlet recently covered the story of a makgeolli bar in the city of Samjiyon, saying that more and more citizens are seeking out the drink. The Samjiyon region is famous for the liquor made from deuljjuk, or swamp cranberry, which originates from Mount Baekdu. However, in line with the rapid development of the city in 2019, a makgeolli bar appeared there for the first time. An increasing number of people are said to be craving the traditional rice wine. Also known as sweet rice drink, makgeolli is gaining popularity not only in Samjiyon but across the country.

In recent years Makgeolli themed competitions have been held to select the best bars or restaurants each year. In the past, it was difficult to store and distribute liquor because its fermentation was still in progress. That is, it was a challenge to keep the drink cool during the distribution process. That's why each region has developed its own Makgeolli. People are informed about makgeolli products that have been well evaluated in competitions and the result influences the sales of makgeolli restaurants. It's no wonder that restaurants strive to produce the authentic flavor and fragrance of liquor.

Currently, the two main brands are makgeolli from Munsu (문수) restaurant and Rakbaek (락백) makgeolli produced by Rakwon (락원) department store in Pyongyang. Although its main ingredients are white rice, corn or black glutinous rice, new varieties are being developed to produce different flavors.

Local media say that makgeolli helps prevent and cure conditions such as chronic gastritis, indigestion, hardening of the arteries and chronic arthritis, as well as bringing beauty benefits. According to the media, linoleic acid, the essential unsaturated fatty acid that suppresses the progress of diabetes, cancer, aging and various infectious diseases, has been shown to be produced in the makgeolli manufacturing process. In fact, North Korea often highlights the health benefits of alcoholic beverages, as well as their taste and aroma.

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In June 2000, North and South Korea held their first summit in Pyongyang since the national divide.

The scene of then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung visiting the North Korean capital was broadcast worldwide. The historic summit made headlines in North Korea, of course.

Great attention was given to each of the events during the high-level summit. Deuljjuk or bog cranberry liqueur was selected for the dinner toast. Deuljjuk is a medicinal herb that grows on Mount Baekdu. The drink also became known during the reunions of families separated by the Korean War.

Deuljjuk, a kind of berry, grows in regions located between 800 and 2,200 meters in altitude. The berries grow in the alpine region of Mount Baekdu. It is difficult to find and collect them. The liquor made from this local specialty was developed during the years of former leader Kim Jong-il, and the liquor became famous after being served at the table during the inter-Korean summit. North Korea claims the liquor, which contains polyphenols, helps improve eyesight and purifies the blood. Legend has it that if a man drinks, he becomes a Taoist hermit, and if a woman drinks, she becomes a Taoist fairy. The best known is the 40% liqueur produced by the Hyesan Deuljjuk Processing Factory. Due to the rarity of the berries, the drink is consumed on special occasions, such as traditional festivals, or by those with money or power.

Another liquor that represents North Korea is Taedonggang beer. In a highly unusual move, North Korea even ran a TV commercial for the beer.

Former leader Kim Jong-il showed a keen interest in starting a brewery in his country after visiting a brewery in Russia in 2001. North Korea bought a British brewery that closed in 2000 and shipped all the equipment from Britain to set up your own brewery. That's how North Korea started producing Taedonggang beer. In 2016, the country hosted the Taedonggang Beer Festival.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022, Taedonggang beer is North Korea's most popular domestic brand.

Taedonggang beer is one of North Korea's top exports. It has good taste and is sold at high prices abroad. It comes in seven different flavors. Best known to South Koreans is Beer No.2, which has an alcohol content of 15 percent. Some versions of the beer feature coffee or chocolate aromas. Reports say that breweries have sprung up in the country to allow locals to enjoy draft beer. North Korea interprets the situation as a result of the supreme leader's love for his people. However, from an economic point of view, North Korea seeks to promote the spread of Taedonggang beer and make people feel more energetic.

When drinking, North Koreans use expressions that are equivalent to "clinking glasses" and "bottoms up" in English. When will people in South Korea and North Korea come together on a happy occasion to toast and drink to each other's happiness?

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What alcohol do they drink in North Korea? ›

Beer culture

Nevertheless, beer and soju are the two most common alcoholic drinks in the country, with 94.9 per cent of all alcohol consumed (in pure alcohol) being liquor and the remaining 5.1 per cent beer. An average North Korean consumes just under a litre of pure alcohol in the form of beer annually.

What is the most popular alcohol in North Korea? ›

Firstly there is no shortage of booze in North Korea, and no limit on consumption. It could even be considered a national pastime – much like life in South Korea, China and much of East Asia. The main drink of choice is soju. Soju is a clear spirit made from rice, wheat or barley.

Can tourists drink alcohol in North Korea? ›

There are no laws against public drinking, although of course it's not allowed to drink (or smoke) around political or revolutionary sites. During holidays and Sundays you'll find North Koreans in public parks and at the beach, drinking, singing, dancing or even putting on standup comedy routines.

Is drinking alcohol common in Korea? ›

A large majority of Korean people have regarded drinking as a necessary element of social life. Whether it's during a time of joy, happiness, or stress, Koreans often drink until they are drunk. According to official Korean statistics in 2013, Koreans consume more alcohol than rice, the staple food.

What alcoholic beverages do Koreans drink? ›

Most traditional Korean alcoholic drinks are rice wines, fermented with the aid of yeast and nuruk (a wheat-based source of the enzyme amylase). Main varieties include clear rice wines (cheongju), milky rice wine (takju), distilled liquor (soju), fruit wine (gwasil-ju), flower wines, and medicinal wines.

Can you drink Coke North Korea? ›

There are two countries where you won't find the carbonated drink in stores – at least officially. Due to ongoing trade embargoes and sanctions, there are currently no legal avenues to buy Coca-Cola in Cuba and North Korea.

What is Korea's most popular drink? ›

What are the most popular Korean drinks?
  • Banana milk. Banana milk has become a novelty for tourists to buy when visiting Korea. ...
  • Sikhye. ...
  • Coffee milk. ...
  • Ginseng tea. ...
  • Barley tea. ...
  • Sujeonggwa. ...
  • Milkis.

What is the legal drinking age in North Korea? ›

Alcohol. The legal drinking age in Korea is 19 years of age. Although it is legal to drink alcohol in public, disorderly conduct under the influence of alcohol can result in hefty fines and a visit to the police station.

Do people go to bars in North Korea? ›

Nowadays there are many more bars, coffee shops, and even pizza joints popping up in Pyongyang. But the one true staple of North Korean nightlife preceded even Young Pioneer Tours, and that is the Taedong Diplomatic Club, AKA “The Diplo”.

Can you drink beer in North Korea? ›

Like in the South, soju is the national alcohol of the DPRK, but North Koreans also make and consume some decent beer. The most famous of these is Taedonggang Beer, named after the river that flows through Pyongyang. Taedonggang's green bottle is a common sight throughout the country.

Are North Koreans allowed to drink coffee? ›

More and more North Koreans are drinking coffee and tea, with the number of coffee and tea houses on the rise. But it still seems to be hard for ordinary citizens to afford these beverages, due to the food shortage and the border closure.

Are condoms not allowed in North Korea? ›

Getting a condom is next to impossible because the country has banned all sorts of birth control measures. Sanitary pads and tampons are not available in the North Korean market. Women use the old-school reusable pads which they are expected to reuse by washing after use.

Is alcoholism a big problem in Korea? ›

South Korea is a leading liquor consuming nation

South Koreans drank 13.7 shots of liquor per week, followed by Russians who were at 6.3 shots per week and Americans at 3.3.

Who drinks the most alcohol in the world Korea? ›

On average, South Koreans consume 14 shots of hard liquor a week, while Americans drink about three and Russians about six, according to Euromonitor statistics.

Why do Koreans turn away when drinking? ›

In Korea, however, it is customary to always pour and receive drinks with both hands or at least have both hands touching the glass as a sign of respect, especially if the person pouring your drink is an elder. Out of respect for an elder, Koreans usually turn their face away and cover their mouth while drinking.

What are traditional alcoholic drinks in Korea? ›

Korea's representative traditional liquors are makgeolli and soju. They can easily be purchased at markets and convenience stores from Seoul to even the smallest of towns. Their low price also makes them quite popular.

How do Koreans drink alcohol? ›

More social drinking than drinking alone at home was the defining aspect of Korean drinking culture. Rather than taking a little sip at a time, people frequently drink one shot at a time. One shot means chugging down an entire glass. Koreans usually have competitions among friends for who will have the most shots.

What do Koreans drink after drinking? ›

Asian pear juice is an effective hangover deterrent; other research suggests red ginseng and lemon-lime soda can help metabolize alcohol more quickly. Plenty of Koreans admit that the products offer little more than a placebo effect—but they buy them anyway, because it's part of the bonding experience.

What are 3 things that are not allowed in North Korea? ›

North Korea has strict laws about what you can bring into the country. It's illegal to bring in religious, pornographic or political items. Declare all published material and electronic devices when you arrive.

Can you drink and smoke in North Korea? ›

There is no ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, but any official place, or tourist venue is very much no smoking. This includes public spaces, such as hotel lobbies.

Does North Korea have soft drinks? ›

Air Koryo soft drinks are also purveyed at some North Korean grocery stores. Coca-Cola bottled in China is available in upscale grocery stores in Pyongyang, and Pepsi bottled in China is also available, although it is rare compared to Coca-Cola's availability.

What is Korea's signature drink? ›

Soju is Korea's most famous famous liqour. As the ubiquity of these glittering green bottles in virtually every eating and drinking establishment should tell you: soju is Korea's national liquor.

Why is drinking culture so big in Korea? ›

South Korea's unparalleled liquor consumption is almost entirely due to the country's love for a certain fermented rice spirit called Soju. The South Korean liquor accounts for 97% of the country's spirits market. Donning the hard alcohol crown can be problematic at times.

What is the white drink in Korea? ›

Makgeolli (Korean: 막걸리, raw rice wine [mak. k͈ʌɭɭi]), sometimes anglicized to makkoli (/ˈmækəli/, MAK-ə-lee), is a Korean alcoholic beverage. The milky, off-white, and lightly sparkling rice wine has a slight viscosity that tastes slightly sweet, tangy, bitter, and astringent.

What country has the lowest drinking age? ›

The youngest legal drinking age in the world is 15, with both Mali and the Central African Republic allowing folks to drink at that time. Seven countries do not have a government-mandated drinking age, while 11 countries ban the consumption of booze entirely.

Is the age of consent in Korea 13? ›

According to South Korea's Criminal Act Article 305, the age of consent in South Korea is 20 years old. This is one of the oldest ages of consent in the world. Previously, the age of consent in South Korea was 13, one of the lowest in the world.

Is there nightclub in North Korea? ›

Like everything in the country, tourist access to nightlife is strictly controlled. In reality, most visitors' experience of North Korean nightlife will be confined to their hotels.

Is there a Mcdonald's in North Korea? ›

There are currently no Western chains in North Korea, but that doesn't mean the country doesn't have chain restaurants of its own. Okryugwan, which opened its first restaurant in Pyongyang in 1960, at one point had locations in Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia, Russia, Cambodia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Is there a casino in North Korea? ›

Are there casinos in North Korea? Indeed, there are CASINOS, plural. As things currently stand, there are two casinos in North Korea; one in Pyongyang and one in Rason, but to call them very different would be quite the understatement!

Can you open carry alcohol in Korea? ›

There are no open-container laws in South Korea, so you may see plenty of people enjoying their beverages on the beach, picnicking in the park, or walking out of a bar. However, don't even think about driving while intoxicated.

Is there pizza in North Korea? ›

North Korea food options available to travellers - There are several types of foods available to people visiting North Korea and, yes, to the shock of many, hamburger joints and pizza restaurants as well as Western coffee shops are available in North Korea, though my no means common!

Why is Coke not allowed in North Korea? ›

Apart from cuba, Coca-Cola is also not sold in North Korea. The Korean war took place between 1950 and 1953, because of which the united states imposed economic sanctions on North Korea. In 1980, north korea bombed South Korea, since then America has made strict laws. So, Coca-Cola is not sold in North Korea.

What can you get in trouble for in North Korea? ›

Accessing phones, computers, televisions, radios or media content that are not sanctioned by the government is illegal, and considered “anti-socialist behavior” to be severely punished.

Are North Koreans allowed to drive? ›

Automobile transportation is further restricted by a series of regulations. According to North Korean exile Kim Ji-ho, unless a civilian driver receives a special permit, it is forbidden to drive alone (the driver must carry passengers).

Does North Korea have tampons? ›

' North Korea has ban on manufacturing hygiene products like sanitary pads and tampons in the country. To cope with this practice, North Korean women is said to make their own sanitary products from cotton cloth materials available around them and also reuse them as much as possible.

Is birth control allowed in North Korea? ›

Birth control use in North Korea is high, U.N. report says

Contraceptive use among women in North Korea of childbearing age is higher than the global average, although birth control is illegal in the country. The new standard in egg freezing and advanced fertility care. Your fertility, your way.

Do North Koreans have iPhones? ›

On June 15, 2011, confirmed that some North Koreans use Apple's iPhones, as well as Nokia's and Samsung's smartphones. In November 2020, no mobile phones could dial into or out of the country, and there was no Internet connection.

What country is alcoholism most common? ›

Russia and Australia have the highest prevalence of alcoholism dependence overall, with 2.61 per cent and 2.58 per cent, respectively. According to the World Health Organization, US has the lowest rate of alcohol dependence with only 1.93 per cent.

What country drinks the most alcohol? ›

Belarus, a country that drinks the most liters of pure alcohol than any other country in the world, was also classified as having one the riskiest pattern of drinking.

Why can't Korean people drink alcohol? ›

Aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency is common among Chinese, Korean and Japanese people. Some inherit two copies of the defective gene for this enzyme; one from each parent. Their liver makes a faulty version of the enzyme.

Which Asians drink the most alcohol? ›

South Koreans drink copious amounts of alcohol so much so that no other country comes close to their per capita consumption. The reason for this unparalleled liquor consumption is ascribed to country's liking for Soju- the fermented rice drink.

Do Americans drink a lot of alcohol? ›

Percentage of U.S. Adults Who Drink, Trend Since 1939

The percentage who report using alcoholic beverages has averaged 63%, with a range from 55% to 71%. The figure was 58% in 1939 and is 63% in the most recent reading, from 2021-2022.

What does Korean says before eating? ›

What do Koreans say before eating? "잘 먹겠습니다!"(Jalmukesumneda) - which means, "I will eat well!" Get your fill of Korean food at the latest Korean grill in town, Soban K-Town Grill, at 2/F #EastwoodMall!

What do Koreans say before drinking? ›

To use the “Korean cheers,” raise your glass in the air, say 건배 (geonbae), and clink your glass with your friend's glass. The word implies that you should then drink the whole of your drink, but this is not actually necessary. 건배 (geonbae) is usually said by itself rather than part of a phrase or sentence.

Are Koreans heavy drinkers? ›

In Korea, 20% of drinkers are binge or excessive drinkers, and are responsible for 66% of all alcohol consumption [2].

What is the legal drinking in Korea? ›

The legal drinking age in Korea is 19 years of age. Although it is legal to drink alcohol in public, disorderly conduct under the influence of alcohol can result in hefty fines and a visit to the police station.

Can you smoke in North Korea? ›

Tobacco first arrived in Korea in the early-1600s from Japan and until around 1880, both men and women smoked. Today, North Koreans consider smoking to be a normal activity for men, but female smoking has become a social taboo.

What do most Koreans drink? ›

Soju is a clear, low-alcohol, distilled spirit that is the most popular liquor in Korea. If you haven't heard of it, well then you've got a blind spot, because it's been the best-selling liquor in the world, according to CNN.

Can an 18 year old American drink in Korea? ›

The legal drinking age in Korea for foreigners is 19 years of age for most people. Specifically, adults can legally drink alcohol from January 1st of the year they turn 20, since everyone adds one year at the start of the new year.

Is TV allowed in North Korea? ›

As of August 16, 2016, there were four television channels in North Korea. All are state-owned and usually last from daytime to prime time.

What are you not allowed to have in North Korea? ›

North Korea has strict laws about what you can bring into the country. It's illegal to bring in religious, pornographic or political items. Declare all published material and electronic devices when you arrive. It's also illegal to knowingly or unknowingly possess items that breach North Korean law.

What is a typical meal in North Korea? ›

Rice dishes and kimchi are staple Korean foods. In a traditional meal, they accompany both side dishes (panch'an) and main courses like chuk (porridge), pulgogi (grilled meat) or myŏn (noodles).

Why can't Koreans drink alcohol? ›

Aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency is common among Chinese, Korean and Japanese people. Some inherit two copies of the defective gene for this enzyme; one from each parent. Their liver makes a faulty version of the enzyme.

Which country drink the most alcohol? ›

Belarus, a country that drinks the most liters of pure alcohol than any other country in the world, was also classified as having one the riskiest pattern of drinking.


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