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KIM JONG ALE; Crackpot dictator bought brewery from England & shipped to N Korea.

Byline: Lewis Panther and Josh Layton

A CRAZED boast by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il transformed the fate of a traditional English brewery.

Today former staff at Ushers of Trowbridge still talk about how a group of unsmiling Asian officials arrived to buy them out - lock stock and beer barrel.

The story began at a summit where Kim Jong-il faced his sworn enemy Kim Dae-jung, the leader of South Korea.

Insults were traded and Kim Jong-il bragged how he could knock back more pints than the other Kim.

After the meeting he decided to back it up - and ordered his minions to erect a beer factory just like the ones in Britain.

They went out looking to buy a working brewery. And just then, the 175-yearold Ushers of Trowbridge, in Wiltshire, went bust.

The North Koreans swooped. Despite years of famine and economic sanctions in the rogue state they paid PS1.5million for the premises and equipment.

Ushers' former head brewer Gary Todd recalls showing a party of deadly serious North Korean officials around the plant. They even tried to get Gary, 47, to move to their capital city Pyongyang to teach them.

He remembers they were fascinated by the smallest items, such as cups and toilet seats. Gary said: "A group of 12 came - a couple of brewers, two engineers and the rest were officials or translators.

"You could definitely tell they were from an oppressive regime.

"They were nice guys but the interpreters wouldn't let us talk to anyone without a government official being present and officials decided if we could ask certain questions."

He said: "You couldn't have a joke with them as they didn't find things funny.

"It was a bit sad but it was just how they'd been brought up and treated.

"They were fascinated with everyday items. Once the deal was done they grabbed almost everything they could. Things hoPPy DAys: such as plastic cups, they said they absolutely must have.

"They even took toilet seats. They were insistent on taking the whole lot, even the tiles under the fermentation area. The negotiations were very one-sided.

Cardboardy "They wanted to knock down a brick wall between the fermentation area and the old Ushers club but we told them if they took that the building would collapse."

The brewery was rebuilt in the Far East and now operates under the regime of Jong-il's son Kim Jong-un. People queue for hours for tokens to buy Taedonggang lager. The 5.7% brew is pricier than the statesubsidised rice liquor soju.

Often drunk uncooled, it has been praised in the New York Times, even exported to South Korea and had rare advertising slots on North Korea's strictly state-run TV.

Gary, who declined the kind offer to take his 12 years of brewing experience to the other side of the world, is now a consultant brewer.

He told us: "We effectively had to teach the North Koreans how to brew with a brewery. We sat for days going through plans and drawings.

"We thought it was a bit of a joke.

But at least they have a brewery that's working. There's a joke at home that if I don't play ball they'll send me out to North Korea."

Gary has tasted a bottle of the new brewery's Taedonggang, still being made using British pipes and casks from the sale in 2000.

He said: "It's good. I was expecting it to be aged, cardboardy. I'm pleasantly surprised. I must have done something right."

Doubtless hordes of North Koreans would agree.

lewis.panther@people.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

TROUBLE BREWING Female worker in Pyongyang, where even the tiles are from Wiltshire

HOPPY DAYS: Jong-il and Gary Todd by brewery
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jun 29, 2014
Words:618
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