The North Korean government’s efforts to produce better-quality beer seems to be paying off.
Lager produced with Czech Republic technology, expertise, and ingredients is captivating the taste buds of tourists to the communist country, as well as the rich young adults of Pyongyang. That is according to Tomas Novotny of the Czech brewing company Zvu Potez.
“Many Russian and Chinese tourists, as well as North Koreans from Pyongyang travel [to the Rason Special Economic Zone] only to taste this beer,” said Novotny in a telephone interview with the VOA Korean service.
According to Zvu Potez’s website, the company is well-known for beer production expertise. It reportedly has helped build as many as 200 complete breweries and 50 mini-breweries around the globe.
Earlier this month, Martin Kovar, Sales Director at Zvu Potez, said in an interview with local daily Mlada Fronta Dnes that North Korean representatives in the Czech Republic approached his company directly.
“We took the [North Korean] representatives to a few Czech microbreweries, and then they chose a type of beer that appealed to them the most,” Kovar explained.
North Korea then opened a microbrewery in the Rason Special Economic Zone in late 2013 and equipped it entirely with Czech-made appliances and hardware.
In addition to the equipment, Novotny explained that the ingredients - malt, hop, and yeast - were also imported from the Czech Republic.
In this effort, brewing technologist Novotny stayed in the North for six months, beginning last October, to teach two North Koreans what he knows about beer.
Novotny added, however, he does not know what the North plans to do once they use up the one-year supply of ingredients from his country.
So why is the impoverished country striving to improve the quality of its beer? It may be that better beer means better business.
While beer at the bar in Rason is free for locals, tourists must pay about 70 U.S. cents per pint, according to the North Korea-focused website NK News.
Pyongyang is also encouraging foreign visitors to take a tour of its various microbreweries, including the Rakwon Paradise , the Taedonggang Craft Brewery, and the Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery.
The Czech company’s work on the Rason brewery has come to an end, and it does not intend to send more experts unless North Korea places additional orders.
This is not the first time North Korea used foreign expertise to build a brewery. The Taedonggang Craft Brewery in the eastern suburbs of Pyongyang is equipped with facilities bought from a British factory back in 2000. Its beer has received favorable reviews from foreign media, including the New York Times.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.