Brits across the country celebrate their Irish heritage on St Patrick’s Day, but now they can mark the occasion like never before – with a boozy tour of North Korea.
Smiling Grape Adventure Tours, based in Cambridgeshire, will take guests to Pyongyang’s best pubs, bars and microbreweries in March 2020.
And it will also escort guests to a North Korean vineyard where, as some of the first-ever Western visitors, they’ll try the local wines.
Smiling Grape Adventure Tours, based in Cambridgeshire, will take guests to Pyongyang’s best pubs, bars and microbreweries in March 2020. Pictured is a beer festival in Pyongyang
Company director Matt Ellis said that sanctions against the secretive state had unexpectedly led to a booming beer scene.
‘The drinking culture is big in North Korea,’ he said.
‘A shortage of fuel due to the sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs makes it difficult for beer to be shipped around the country, so there are many microbreweries.
‘Microbreweries are everywhere – in hotels, restaurants, bowling alleys, karaoke bars and department stores.’
Beer we go: The drinking culture in North Korea is apparently well established
The tour boss was also confident that North Koreans could enter into the spirit of the occasion.
‘The North Koreans have many celebrations similar to St Patrick’s Day throughout the year, from the birthdays of the leaders to significant dates in the country’s history,’ he said.
‘As in Ireland, North Korea uses these holidays to celebrate its cultural identity.
‘I’m sure experiencing an Irish celebration will be quite new to them, but the North Koreans are friendly, kind and inquisitive folks.
‘When you visit you will find the people are warm, welcoming and will ask many questions about your life.’
North Korea’s most famous beer is Taedonggang, which is named for the river that runs through Pyongyang.
And if it tastes strangely familiar, that’s because the brewery was founded with equipment from the defunct Ushers brewery of Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
‘This is a much more funky, full-bodied and bitter style than the beers of South Korea,’ Mr Ellis added.
Its wines, meanwhile, are often used medicinally.
Microbreweries are everywhere in North Korea, according to Smiling Grape Adventure Tours – in hotels, restaurants, bowling alleys, karaoke bars and department stores
Mr Ellis said: ‘As Western drugs are scarce and medical supplies suffer from chronic shortages, the North Koreans turn to traditional medicines as an alternative.
‘There is the awesome looking snake wine, which has a dead snake floating inside the bottle and is produced to cure short-sightedness and hair loss.
‘Then there’s the controversial tiger bone wine, which is widely available to treat rheumatism and arthritis.
‘I was persuaded to buy a bottle of deer antler wine which I happily took home to open for a tasting group.
‘According to the label it was a mixture of fermented red grapes, black tea, menthol and a few other unidentified ingredients – it certainly raised a few eyebrows during the tasting.’
Mr Ellis also reported that, despite sanctions, Pyongyang’s bars had a healthy selection of fine foreign hooch.
He said: ‘They appear to be having little trouble getting their hands on international luxury brands of single malt whiskies, spirits, wines and champagnes.’
Despite allowing foreign visits, North Korea has on several occasions arrested tourists and sentenced them to hard labour.
In 2015, American student Otto Warmbier was arrested and imprisoned after allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel.
He fell into a coma shortly after his sentencing and never regained consciousness, and died within a week of his return to the US in 2017.
Asked about the wisdom of taking tourists for a boozy trip to the country, Mr Ellis said: ‘We will be mixing with the locals in the microbreweries, pubs, bars and restaurants.
‘It is well known that alcohol can bring people together as well as helping to bring their guard down.
‘With lower inhibitions from both sides, our guests can learn much about their lives in this fascinating and isolated country.’
The tour, which departs from China, will run from March 15 to March 20, 2020, and is priced at £1,295.