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Unhappy new year for Russian beer lovers

Date: January 01 2013


Tom Parfitt, Moscow

Beer in Russia will become an alcoholic drink for the first time today.

Many Russians consider beer a  light refreshment that can be guzzled on the way to work or downed in great quantities before a picnic and a swim in the river.

Hard drinkers sniff at its weakness, and there is a saying: ‘‘Beer without vodka is like throwing money to the wind.’’

But a hung-over nation will wake up to a new and troubling reality when, with the new year, beer becomes classified as an alcoholic drink for the first time.

Until now it has been considered a foodstuff, along with all drinks under 10 per cent in strength.

An array of international and local brands, from Amstel to Efes and Baltika to Zhiguli, could be bought at street kiosks, railway stations and corner shops, like fruit juice or mineral water. Bus stops and petrol stations account for up to 30 per cent of sales.

Morning and evening, people supping from cans or bottles are a common sight in parks and squares and on Moscow’s Metro.

Beer’s new status as alcohol, however, will prevent it being sold from street outlets, and sales between 11pm and 8am will be banned. Television advertising will also be outlawed.

The new restrictions were signed off by the then president Dmitry Medvedev in 2011 in an effort to tackle alcohol abuse, which he had described as a ‘‘national calamity’’.

The average Russian drinks the equivalent of 18 litres of pure alcohol per year, and about 500,000 deaths annually are thought to be drink-related.

That includes a large number of road deaths and several thousand cases of drowning.

Vodka remains the most popular and most damaging alcoholic drink in Russia, but beer has been steadily advancing on it in recent years.

Isaac Sheps, chairman of the Union of Russian Brewers, claimed that the change could be damaging to health.

‘‘Stocking beer is more problematic than stocking vodka,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s bulky, it’s big, there’s no room for it in small homes. It’s much easier to buy two bottles of vodka.

‘‘So it’s quite ironic that this attempt to improve health and lower alcoholism could have the opposite effect and cause people to drink more harmful spirits.’’  Telegraph, London

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