Of all the things North Korea could’ve launched this week, whisky comes as a pleasant surprise.
Locals can already get their hands on state-brewed beer and soju (while essentials like sanitary pads and calories are harder to come by), but not-so North Korean spirits.
However, news dropped this week that the socialist state has distilled its very first whisky, muscling into a market dominated by Scotland, Ireland, USA and Japan.
Curious? Us too.
The first sip
Young Pioneers Tours (YPT), a Chinese tour company specialising in North Korean adventures, was taken behind the scenes at Samilpo distillery to enjoy a pre-release dram, emerging rosy-cheeked to share the facts with the rest of the world.
Samilpo takes its name from Lake Samilpo near Mt. Kumgang, a place renowned for its natural beauty.
It looks like there are three expressions of the whisky, ranging from an entry-level black label (bottled at 40% ABV), a red label (43% ABV) to a third higher ABV offering which is “not yet ready”.
It also looks strangely familiar.
Heartfelt homage or shameless appropriation, the square bottle, diagonal label and gold trim leaves little doubt as to Samilpo’s inspiration. Johnnie Walker, of course.
And the taste? Initial reports aren’t overly promising – but time could make all the difference. One taster said it was an ” interesting start”, with the disclaimer: “It definitely needs to be aged a little longer.”
So, ah, how’s it made?
Good question! No one’s entirely sure how it’s matured – or made, for that matter. Whisky lovers on Reddit had a field day speculating about the mash, barrels, still, and ingredients. “I’d be surprised if they have real working and functional pot stills with a warehouse for aging,” said one skeptical Redditor. “Apparently Kim Jong-Un loves Johnnie Walker blue,” revealed another. Whatever you believe, the furor makes for entertaining reading.
A tonic for your bod
What we do know is that this whisky is somewhat of an elixir. With ‘hangover free’ beers already available in North Korea, it’s only natural that Samilpo’s product should harbour health benefits.
The distillery claims that their whisky prevents damage to the liver and guards against the effects of alcohol abuse via specialised proteins, including 15 amino acids. Don’t tell the bodybuilders.
By now you’re probably wondering how to get your paws on a bottle. Well, unless you fancy a trip to Pyongyang – where it’s set to appear on shelves in the Gwangbok department store for $15 – you might have to wait a while.
Samilpo’s owner is hoping to start exporting… just as soon as the current political situation cools off.