SEOUL, Aug. 3 (UPI) -- North Koreans are developing a taste for spirits originating from south of their border, according to a source in the country.
A source in North Pyongan Province told South Korean news service Daily NK a leading South Korean brand of the distilled beverage called soju is popular among North Korea's emerging capitalist class and elite officials.
The source said the South Korean brand of soju known as "Chamyiseul" is more popular than the North Korea-made "Pyongyang spirit."
Chamyiseul is highly sought after as a gift at "anniversary parties" and is treated as a "rare commodity," the source said.
The South Korean soju brand is popular because its alcohol level is lower than that of North Korean soju, and therefore reduces the risk of liver damage.
North Korean officials still generally prefer pure alcohol marking 30 degrees or higher.
But the rise in hepatitis and gastrointestinal illnesses resulting from excessive alcohol consumption is leading to a preference for South Korean Chamyiseul, according to the source.
The soju is being smuggled into North Korea at the China border.
While at large public gatherings such as weddings Kaesong ginseng liquor, Pyongyang spirits, and Daepyong spirits are popular choices, at more intimate get-togethers such as a friend's birthday party, guests seek a taste of South Korean alcohol, the source said.
"News is spreading among North Koreans that South Korean products are of first-rate quality," the source said.