North Korea launches its own whisky

By News from Elsewhere... found by BBC Monitoring

Image source, Young Pioneer Tours
Image caption,
The distillery consciously copied the iconic Johnnie Walker bottle

North Korea has distilled its own brand of whisky and plans to launch it at the end of this year, it's reported.

This would be the first time the country has produced whisky, according to the South Korean Hankook Ilbo newspaper.

The source of the story is the Young Pioneer Tours tourism company, based in China, which specialises in visits to North Korea and other places that "your mother would rather you stay away from".

Pioneer Tours say they managed to lay their hands on a couple of bottles of the elusive spirit, which North Korea's own media have not yet mentioned.

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Samilpo Distillery say they based the bottle on the characteristic square design of Johnnie Walker, a famous Scotch whisky brand also "well-recognised in North Korea", according to Young Pioneer Tours.

It will come in different expressions, ranging from an entry-level black label to a red label, with a higher-proof bottle "that's not yet ready".

The whisky takes its name from Lake Samilpo near Mount Kumgang, one of North Korea's major tourism centres.

'Medicinal qualities'

Young Pioneer Tours reassures drinkers that Samilpo's product contain 15 amino acids, including eight essential amino acids, which will "help prevent liver damage and reduce the negative side-effects of alcohol abuse".

But it is silent on the types of grain that go into the spirit, or how old it is - questions of great interest to whisky connoisseurs.

This may be North Korea's first whisky venture, but its alcohol producers have a record of promoting booze with alleged health benefits.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Pyongyang has launched its own beer festival in recent years

In 2016, North Korea claimed to have invented hangover-free liquor, and its Taedonggang Brewery has advertised its beer as "promoting the health and longevity of drinkers" on the grounds that it's brewed with underground water from the Taedong River, "free from environmental pollution".

The Taedonggang Brewery itself has a curious history.

It got a new lease of life in 2000, when North Korea bought equipment from the defunct Ushers brewery in Britain's rural Wiltshire, which it dismantled, shipped and rebuilt thousands of miles away on the Taedong, the NK News site reports.

Spirited reaction

The news that North Korean whisky is in the making has stirred curiosity and excitement on the Reddit social media platform, with fans wondering how they can get a bottle.

Some doubt whether it's the real thing.

"I reckon what defines a whisky in North Korea is probably very loose. I'd be surprised if they have real working and functional pot stills with a warehouse for aging," Reddit user Scotchtalk posted.

One user referred to the bottle design in this tongue-in-cheek comment: "Who came up with that clever and innovative packaging?"

But others posted critical comments, pointing out the whisky is "made with grain that could have been used to feed a starving population".

Reporting by Krassi Twigg

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