When you think of traditional Russian drinks, chances are good that vodka is the very first thing that comes to mind. However, the former Soviet Union is also a big consumer of beer. That might be changing, though, as the Great Russian Beer Crackdown gets underway. No, that doesn't mean that they're employing secret police to track down beer lovers, but the situation is a bit strange. Here's a look at what's going on.
Last year, Russia took the first tentative steps toward dealing with alcohol abuse in the nation by passing a 200% hike in excise taxes. However, they're not stopping there. The Duma has passed the initial version of a bill that would limit the alcohol content of most beers to just 5%. That same bill would also ban the sale of strong beer from many locations where it is sold today: train stations, outdoor kiosks and others. In addition, sellers would be limited to only selling during certain times of the day – not after 11 pm or before 8 am.
There are also some other changes coming to the way Russia deals with beer. For instance, beer has traditionally been classified as a foodstuff, rather than as alcohol (like vodka). However, that's changing, too. This allows beer to be taxed far more heavily than if it were classed the same as a loaf of bread or a bushel of apples.
Part of Russia's problem with beer stems from their traditional use of stronger spirits. For a Russian used to downing straight vodka on a regular basis, even a strong beer is closer to a soft drink than to an alcoholic beverage. This leads to Russians drinking far, far more beer than the WHO (World Health Organization) thinks is appropriate. Currently, Russians drink somewhere in the neighborhood of 32 pints of PURE alcohol each year – not beer.
So, while many brewers are not particularly happy about the new bill, as it cuts into profitability and growth potential in Russia, the bill does offer some benefits to the Russian population. Curbing high alcohol consumption is designed to help bolster an unhealthy population, decrease alcohol related accidents and even boost student performance (part of the bill disallows the sale of beer near schools).
Whether the bill passes or not remains to be seen, as it still has two more hurdles to overcome before going to the Kremlin, but things are certainly changing.