Russians turn to beer

Young drinkers are turning to suds faster than brewers can make it

July 2, 1999 - Beer over vodka? It appears to be happening in Poland and perhaps even in Russia.


While the Russian economy has fallen into a steep recession, the beer business has been booming. In Klin, for instance, trucks are lined up every day at Klinsky Beer Factory to haul fresh beer to market as soon as it bottled.

"Last year, the rate of growth of our brewery was 160%," said Olga Gulina, a spokeswoman for the Klinsky factory. Some other Russian breweries did even better. Russians, especially younger people, are drinking more beer all the time.

This has led to talk of a generational shift from vodka to beer. Such a shift is occurring in Poland, and some economists predict it will happen in Russia too. "It's a natural progression," said Hans Christian Jacobsen, a director of agribusiness for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

An influx of foreign beer companies and foreign investors has result in serious competition So far, Russian beer drinkes have been the beneficiaries.

In the Soviet era, beer was not particularly easy to find, and often it was terrible. That's one reason per capita consumption in Russia is relatively low -- 20 leters (5-plus gallons) per year, compared to 83 liters in the United States and 130 in Germany.

At Klinsky, most of the old Czech equipment has been scrapped in favor of German and Belgian machinery. Ingredients are imported -- malt from Finland, hops from Germany. "Only the bottles are made in Russia," Gulina said.

Klinsky has expanded its production from 106 million gallons (3.4 million barrels) a year in the early 1990s to 290 million today. Now, with an infusion of money from SUN Interbrew (a recently formed alliance of Indian and Belgian interests), Klinsky hopes to nearly triple its production over the next few years.

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