We’ve all heard of “beer goggles,” a term that refers to the drink’s miraculous ability to make something—usually a member of the opposite sex, late at night—look quite different from the way it actually looks.

But who would imagine a hardheaded character like Kim Jong Il falling victim to this familiar condition? And yet it appears as if he’s no different from the rest of us after all: In what must have been a state of extreme inebriation, he recently took a look at his own people and imagined that, despite desperate poverty and widespread starvation, they could afford to buy beer.


One result of this boozy hallucination is North Korea’s first beer commercial, a three-minute spot that touts Taedong River Beer’s nutritional and relaxing qualities, as well as its political correctness.

While the commercial is noteworthy, the product itself has an interesting story behind it. The brewery that produces it is located in Pyongyang, but in fact it’s only a recent transplant there. Under the Ushers trademark, it had once produced award-winning beers in the English town of Trowbridge in Wiltshire.

However, by the time Kim Jong Il got the notion that producing a top-quality beer would be a feather in North Korea’s cap, around 2000, the plant had ceased to be a moneymaker and was up for sale. All it took was a cool £1.5 million for the Dear Leader to claim the Ushers facility as his own.

But that was only the first step; the next was to send a team of dutiful North Koreans to the UK to haul the brewery home. Rather than letting them simply blowtorch it into manageable chunks and crate it up, as they apparently had planned to do, the Brits in charge helped them dismantle, label, and pack it in some kind of organized fashion. Just for good measure, they also threw in a few books on how to brew beer.

The brewery was operational within an impressive 18 months, producing a beverage whose refreshing taste only the wealthy elite could afford. Not surprisingly, state media hailed the achievement as yet another blessing from Kim, who, let’s not forget, is “deeply interested in further improving the people’s diet.” And the price of a bottle of Taedong River Beer? About a third of the average worker’s daily pay. But let’s not get bogged down in details.

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DanBing has lived in one Asian country and traveled in various others, engaging in activities that ranged from teaching English to playing Irish music to researching articles to marrying. The best part was usually the food, though the marriage hasn’t been too bad either. But of all his many accomplishments he is perhaps proudest of his close–extremely close–association with the person who wrote The Devil’s Food Dictionary: A Pioneering Culinary Reference Work Consisting Entirely of Lies (www.frogchartpress.com).