Man in Japan Faces Charges After Selling $3 North Korean Beer for $148

The seemingly innocent grift of reselling a beer allegedly violated Japan's Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
green bottle of north korea's Taedonggang beer
Photo via Flickr user SHIBORISAN

The craft beer world, with its bottles and cans known as "White Whales," has spun off such a thriving resale market that a single bottle of Toppling Goliath's Vanilla Bean Assassin allegedly sold for $5,000. With rare brews fetching high resell rates, of course, opportunists want in on the action.

Last October, an unnamed Japanese man took a trip to Shanghai and bought a bottle of Taedonggang beer, made by a state-run brewery that started in 2002 after the North Korean government bought a English brewery and then reassembled the whole thing in Pyongyang. Taedonggang Beer might be one of the best known breweries in North Korea, but its exports are limited, sold in small quantities China in since 2016. There, the man bought the bottle of North Korean beer for about $3 and hid it in his suitcase and went home. Then, as Japanese newspaper The Yomiuri Shimbun reported, he flipped it online for $148.

Following North Korea's nuclear tests in 2006, however, Japan banned imports and exports from the country, so without the approval of Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the man's concealed bottle of Taedonggang was an unsanctioned act. Because of that sale and the alleged sale of other North Korean groceries, according to the Shimbun, Japanese police filed charges against the man on Thursday for suspected violation of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act.

The world of online beer trading tends to run as a "gray market," but this bottle seems fully in the black. It's not yet clear what will happen to the man, but one wonders whether that $145 profit was actually worth it.