North Korea cancels annual beer festival, tour firms say

South Korea willing to help North Korea during drought
South Korea willing to help North Korea during drought

North Korea's annual beer festival appears to have run dry after just one year.

The reclusive country's Taedonggang Beer Festival, which debuted last year, was reportedly due to start on July 26 but was abruptly canceled, according to two tour companies that organize trips there.

The companies -- Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours -- said they received news of the cancellation on Sunday. No official reason was given for the sudden change in plans, but Beijing-based Koryo Tours cited a looming drought as the likely reason.

The "optics" of hosting a beer festival right now would not be good, said Simon Cockerell, Koryo's general manager.

"It won't look great for Pyongyang middle class to be having a jolly good time while people are working on drought relief," Cockerell told CNNMoney.

Related: North Korea's economy grew fast last year but slowdown looms

North Korea is heading towards its worst drought since 2001, the United Nations said last week, raising the possibility of increased food shortages in the rogue state.

A prolonged period of dry weather, falling over North Korea's important growing season of April to June, has put its staple crops of rice and maize at risk.

The state-owned Taedonggang Beer Factory was founded in the early 2000s, when the country was recovering from a devastating famine and still struggling to feed its population.

North Korea's leader at the time, Kim Jong-Il, bought a British brewery -- Ushers of Trowbridge -- in 2000, soon after it went out of business. The North Koreans paid £1.5 million ($1.95 million) for the Ushers' plant, and then dismantled and shipped it to Pyongyang, according to British media reports at the time.

Related: The tour company that took Otto Warmbier to North Korea halts trips for Americans

The company's beer festival made its debut last August, reportedly drawing some 45,000 visitors during its roughly month-long run -- mostly local Pyongyang residents but also several foreign tourists.

North Korean state media was promoting the festival as recently as last week, even touting the unveiling of a new wheat beer.

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