|▲ Pyongyang Soju on display at a store in Seoul ⓒYonhap News|
For the first time in North Korea’s liquor history, alcohol produced from the regions of Yangduk, South Pyongan and South Hamkyung known as “Pyongyang Liquor” will be introduced to U.S. markets in June.
However, Son Jong Hoon, Secretary for the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea denied the claim that Pyongyang Soju is produced in the political prison camps.
He said, “The Central Manufacturing Department makes an order to produce soju (Korean liquor) in the factories located in Yangduk, Mengsan utilizing the brand name Pyongyang Soju.”
However, a defector from the Yoduk political prison camp affirmed that the snakes used in the renown Pyongyang Snake Soju were in fact caught on camp grounds by the prisoners.
Chairman for the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea Kang Cheol Hwan, also a defector from Yoduk revealed, “Through direct experiences, I am aware that the snakes used in Pyongyang Snake Soju are being produced in Yoduk.”
In order to use the snake for brewery, the snake is first starved. Once the poison has risen to the top of the snake, the snake is immersed in alcohol. As the poison is highly dangerous, the job of catching snakes is left for the prisoners of the camps not common citizens. Comparatively, the region surrounding Yoduk is well-known for snakes.
Mr. Kang said, “The actual process of distilling the liquor occurs outside camp grounds. However, the prisoners are the ones forced to catch the snakes” and reminisced, “My uncle nearly died of a snake bite.”
Pyongyang Soju is manufactured in North Korea’s “Pyongyang Soju Factory” and the “Chosun Pyongyang Trading Company” is responsible for marketing the product. On April 9th, the first ship of Pyongyang Soju left Nampo Harbor for the U.S. and is expected to hit U.S. markets by June. This liquor will arrive in the U.S. at the end of this month passing through China and South Korea and reach 5 different cities including New York and Virginia for its first trial in sales.
The base ingredients of Pyongyang Soju which is distilled liquor are corn and rice. It is made in the traditional way placed 170m below the ground and has been manufactured from long ago with other iconic North Korean soju brands Taepyong Liquor and Inpoong Liquor.
According to defectors, the key ingredient to Pyongyang Soju lies in the nature of where it is brewed. Pyongyang Soju breweries are located in Yangduk and Mengsan in South Pyongan and Sungri of Yoduk province in South Hamkyung, where water is known to be best in North Korea.
Water that passes through the district of Yangduk and Mensang is very clean and clear that it has become the chorus of a song, “The water flowing from Nengsan Yangduk is good and clear.”
Further, most of the Pyongyang Soju bottles are used bottles from China. The bottles are imported from China and taken to Yongsong Processing Factory in the vicinity of Pyongyang where broken bottles are removed and new labels placed.
With Pyongyang Soju being imported into the U.S., Taeponng, Hwangryrong Snake Liquor and Pyongyang Myungjoo is also expected to gain more interest. Liquors produced in Pyongyang became known as an export item from the early 90’s and mainly exported to China, Russia and Japan.
In particular, snake liquor is popular amongst Russians, as it is known to be good for male stamina and hip aches. Hwangryong Snake Liquor is known to be sold at a petrol station on the Pyongyang-Wonsan highway.