90,000 Vodkas for Brother Kim

vodkaNorth Korean ruler Kim Jong Un lives a famously flamboyant lifestyle. The self-proclaimed lady’s man and his Party elite host elaborate parties, scarf foreign delicacies, give their girlfriends expensive furs, and booze it up like drunken frat-boys at the end of Rush Week. While everyone else’s food is rationed, he and his cronies find not-so-subtle ways to subvert an international embargo on luxury goods that’s as porous as the old oil embargo against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Since taking power in 2011, roly-poly Kim has managed to spend over $4 billion on luxury goods despite the embargo—in a country where the vast majority of people survive on rationing. The Swiss-educated head of state is apparently seriously taking his father’s famous statement that his people would “eat grass” if they had to in order to propel North Korea into a military powerhouse. (Vladimir Putin echoed the statement in 2017.)

This privation does not, of course, apply to the Party elite. Kim also has a fondness for expensive watches, furs, and musical instruments, and travels in his own armored train.

We’re not normally a social justice platform, but seriously? No wonder he wants his people to have no contact with the outside world. And his latest stunt (at least the latest that was stopped) has some application to the label biz. He tried to sneak 90,000 bottles of vodka in under the fuselage of an airplane he also bought. Both were being shipped to China when they were red-flagged due to paperwork issues. They were then intercepted by Dutch authorities in Rotterdam, under a suspicion that they were, in fact, intended for the 0.0001% in Pyongyang. All the Dutch officials would say for sure was that they were going to North Korea, and they were “90% sure” they were going to Kim Jong Un.

Ironically, if the vodka had gone through as intended, U.S. President Trump might have enjoyed some of the liquor during his recent two-day summit with the North Korean leader. Maybe in some of those quintessential American creations, Jell-O shots and daiquiri smoothies. After all, Kim Jong Un loves foreign things.

The bottles of colorless inebriants recovered by the Dutch bore labels, of course—and what boring labels they were, with some dull blue text scrolls and a mostly-blue Russian guy in a tall hat holding a staff. The brand is Stolbovaya, which advertises itself as “premium vodka.” The Dear Leader and his friends do like their premium spirits; he spent an estimated $35 million on liquor in 2017 alone. That’s a lot of bottle labels.

By the way, college (student) studies have revealed that premium vodka is just regular vodka filtered a dozen more times. If you don’t mind sacrificing a Brita water filter, you can turn a $5 bottle of the cheap stuff into top-notch hooch. Eventually. Then all you need is a new bottle label to distinguish it, which we can happily provide.

Another simple way to improve your vodka is to put it in the freezer. This will not only chill it to a delightful temperature, it will increase its viscosity, improving the mouth-feel and even flavor. This very practice is why most vodka is (or should be) branded with waterproof freezer labels rather than regular labels.

So really, you don’t have to import premium vodka at hideous prices from Russia—but why not, if you have 25 million peasants to foot the bill, and a plane to hide it under?

Happy Bjórdagurinn!

iceland beerIn 1920, the United States, in a fit of prudishness, voted in a total prohibition on the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. This was repealed in 1933, to the relief of taxpayers and tax-collectors alike. It happened that in voting for Prohibition, America was following a trend: right about that time, other countries had also voted for Prohibition, after a strong push by teetotalers who blamed alcohol for most social sins.

One such country was Iceland. For the hardy Northerners, Prohibition began in 1915… and lasted until 1989, at least for beer. The horror! Icelanders still celebrate the end of beer prohibition and the beginning of a new demand for beer labels as Bjórdagurinn, or National Beer Day. But in a nation where one in seven residents is a teetotaler even today, annual beer consumption per capita is a modest 9.1 liters… about a tenth of the U.S. total of 28 gallons. (Wait. Who’s drinking all my beer? I never drink that much!)

Icelandic Prohibition was a curious thing, because it began to be dismantled early on… for everything except beer. Wines went down in 1921 when Spain refused to trade for salted cod if Iceland didn’t buy their wines. Spirits followed afterward, since people were ordering them for legitimate commercial purposes in larger quantities than normal, so they could drink the excess. Other alcohol could be had for the price of a doctor’s visit, as it was prescribed for various ailments. But teetotalers drew the line at beer, which they felt was responsible for most of the country’s moral decay. Who knew a little spoiled barley could lead a country to turpitude?

Luckily, beer label makers still had work in Iceland, since something similar to beer was still legal: a 2.25% alcohol near-beer that gave you some of the flavor and little of the effect. It’s still the only kind of “beer” you can buy in Icelandic markets (but we’ll get to that later). It was also the main ingredient of bjórlíki (“beerlike”), a mix of the near-beer and spirits formulated to raise the alcohol level to 5%. This provided the effect of beer, though the flavor was wanting.

Meanwhile, there was some beer available in the country. But mostly, it was either homebrewed (a real your-mileage-may-vary endeavor), or you had to buy it at an international airport duty-free shop, which was a serious pain in the neck. Ironically, the airport beer was made in Iceland, but not for Icelanders!

And, of course, the occasional knowledgeable individual knew about “jacking.” This could be accomplished by putting near-beer in their freezer (or at least outside on a cold night!) to freeze out some of the water and up the alcohol content. Of course, a traditional bottle is insufficient here, since water expands when it freezes. Because that makes bottles explode, you’d need something like a Tupperware container to make the ice easier to remove, and the right freezer labels to mark your jacked beer.

Finally, in 1989, public sentiment forced the legality of beer. March 1, 1989 became the very first National Beer Day, when people countrywide enjoyed big, frosty mugs of pure beer in public for the first time in almost 75 years. Many celebrations were televised, and lasted well into the wee hours.

Even today, 30 years later after the end of Prohibition, there are still some limitations on beer. You can’t just run by the 7-11 or Circle K to grab a six-pack. True beer is sold only in government-run liquor stores called Vínbúðins. But that’s way better than nothing!

We’ll happily help you out with beer labels for your latest Icelandic craft brew, and freezer labels for your jacking process if you can’t get to the Vínbúðin —or any other kind of freezer labels, for that matter. Contact us for a quote!

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