Wednesday, March 12, 2008

North Korea's Red Beer?

Brewing a 'Red' Beer?

Rarely here in Seoul do we hear any good news out of the North Country, but this bit might qualify.

In Tuesday's Seoul edition of the International Herald Tribune, I happened across Jon Herskovitz's article, "Brewing beer, Communist style, in North Korea" (March 11, 2008), which I only noticed due to the photo above showing two North Korean women working in a 'factory' for 'producing' beer . . . the young lady closer to the camera having, for some obscure reason, caught my roving eye.

Anyway, yes, it's a factory, for the photo's original caption reads:
"Working at the Taedonggang Beer Factory in Pyongyang"
I usually think of such a place as a brewery for brewing beer, but when in Rome . . . so I guess that the Taedonggang Beer Factory is really a factory. One might not expect the North to 'manufacture' good beer, but the article cites critics, albeit unnamed:
"A few critics who have sampled it in Pyongyang say it is a highly respectable but not award-winning brew."
I had never heard of this beer even though I could have bought some in previous years here in the South, for the article says that the beer "was available in Seoul until last year" and adds that "outsiders say the beer is far superior to the mass-marketed beers in South Korea." Well, that shouldn't be overly difficult.

If I want to sample a brew this year, however, I'll have to go to the Northern capital, Pyongyang, and order one at "a Pyongyang hotel for foreigners, where . . . a small bottle of Taedonggang sells for half a euro, or 75 U.S. cents."

Why isn't it available in Seoul these days?
"Park Myung Jin, an executive for the South Korean distributor Vintage Korea, . . . used to sell the beer in the South . . . [but] stopped selling the beer in 2007 because of a sudden price increase."
How does it taste?
"Taedonggang beer . . . is a full-bodied lager a little on the sweet side, with a slightly bitter aftertaste."
What does it look like?
"On tap, the beer is a golden orange color with a clean, white foam."
Golden orange? Wouldn't that be sort of . . . red? How appropriate.

Would it, technically, be a red beer? According to Sara Doersam, who seems to be an expert:
"Red beers come in the form of both ales and lagers" but use "specific types of specialty malts in the mash . . . [to give] red or amber beers their distinctive color . . . [p]rimarily caramel or roasted malts."
Well, Taedonggang Beer is a lager, so it might even qualify as a red beer in that category, but the article does not say whether any specialty malts are used. Perhaps some reader who knows more can supply this detail about Taedonggang Beer.

I suppose that I shouldn't crave one of these 'red' brews, but I can imagine trying one if given the chance. That chance will likely not again come soon, for Herskovitz tells us:
"North Korea . . . has not completely solved the problem of bottling [Taedonggang Beer, for the] brewery has occasional trouble sealing bottles properly and the glass it uses is fragile . . . [and the] transport system in North Korea is also a mess."
Those difficulties might account for the sudden price increase that distributor Park Myung Jin mentions. Or perhaps the Taedonggang brewmasters have simply become more capitalistic in setting higher prices and seeking larger profits?

If so, then even if the beer is red, it will be less 'red'.

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At 6:31 AM, Blogger Graham said...

The yeast is red.

At 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You just might not have to wait too long. As soon as I read today's blog I clicked over and fired off an e-mail to a Wal-Mart executive.

She usually pays some attention to my suggestions.

Cheap red beer in fragile packaging? Of course that will require I leave the county more often.


At 8:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Graham, are you referring to red beers generally, or to Taedonggang Beer?

My understanding is that the malt determines a beer's redness, but I only 'know' that from reading.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, do you deliver to the door?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll talk to Sam.


At 12:42 PM, Blogger Charles said...

Definitely sounds like a future test subject for the fledgling Korean Beer Review...

(I think your word verification test is trying to tell me something. Today's "word" is: hjwzjerk.)

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, if you get some of that red stuff, let me know.

As for this:

"I think your word verification test is trying to tell me something. Today's 'word' is: hjwzjerk."

Yes, I see. The verification test "hjwzjerk" clearly means "Horace Jeffery was a jerk."

Not that it says "was" -- as in past tense...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That should read "Note that it says 'was' -- as in past tense..."

I'm getting old.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sent you an email on the yahoo email address we had on record, when you get a chance can you check that out?

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

AbstiNoZe, I saw that before seeing this.

Jeffery "AgNoZetic" Hodges

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At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Hodges,

I have a couple or three Tae Dong Gangs here in the house from my last DMZ trip. That, Pyongyang Soju, Tuljjuksu (brandy, I believe) and some really poor whiskey were available for sale at Im Jin Gak and at the gift shop at Camp Boniface (just south of the DMZ fence).

As for a review, (and I AM a beer snob and homebrewer) the ingredient list proudly mentions sugar. Sugar, being highly fermentable, adds very little character. Some unfermentable solids may lend to that sweet taste as was mentioned. I find the hop flavor and aroma to be much more evident that the swill S. Korean and most Americans drink. However, because of a presumed lack of barley and resulting inclusion of sugar as a fermentable, the beer is very thin and, frankly, undrinkable. Perhaps that is why I still have some in my china closet.

As for the red color, that can only come from varying types of malted or unmalted specialty types of barley, based on their color and method of attaining such color. An example is what we call crystal malt. Unlike typical barley malt, the staches within the barley grain are converted to crystallized sugars within the grain. Varying temperatures in production produce varying colrs of the grain and thus, the finished beer. No great magic performed there.

I especially enjoyed the red yeast comment by Graham. Truth is, yeast adapts to it's environment. When in Rome...

Back to my unbelievably fresh Newcastle Brown,

At 10:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dave in Songtan, for another visit and a very informative comment.

If you're a "beer snob," then maybe you've taken at least a cursory look at the ebeersnob website?

Anyway, thanks again. I'm certainly learning a lot from generous friends...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I have only taken a cursory glimpse at the ebeersnob a while back. After further review, I may sign up for the newsletter. After all, preaching to the choir only gets them more fired up!

Cheers brother,

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, douse that fire with a brew, Dave.

Jeffery Hodges

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