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As Economic Crisis Deepens, Russians Switch from Vodka to Beer. And Moonshine.

Russian lubok about alcoholism. Source: paukrus, Flickr. CC 2.0

Russian lubok about alcoholism. Source: paukrus, Flickr. CC 2.0

The economic crisis in Russia is causing many alcohol drinkers to switch from vodka to beer, according to an article published in Gazeta.ru last week.

Experts from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) say vodka sales have dropped 13.4 percent against the same period last year. And it’s a long-term trend: hard alcohol sales peaked in 2007 and have been on the decline ever since. Retails sales of vodka fell from 53 percent of total sales based on absolute alcohol content from 2007 to 2009 to 39 percent in 2015. The share of beer increased from around 31 percent to 43 percent of total sales over the same period.

According to Alexandra Burdyak, a senior researcher at RANEPA and one of the authors of the study, the trend might be generational: “The taste of Russians born in 1985 and later has been influenced by the west, mostly Europe. They prefer wine, beer, and other light alcoholic drinks.”

Russians have some of their own theories to explain the drop in vodka sales. The most optimistic hypothesize that the downturn in vodka sales is due to a general improvement in behavior and lifestyle in Russia:

As Lyudmila Ermolaeva wrote on Facebook,

Сужу по своему окружению, друзьям, родственникам, знакомым: все пить стали гораздо меньше. Моя семья последние 10 лет не пьет крепкие напитки совсем, только вино и иногда пиво.

Judging by my surroundings, my friends, family and acquaintances, everyone is drinking much less. My family hasn’t had hard alcohol in the past ten years, just wine and beer.

Other Facebook users, including Aleksandar Bandar, noted different trends in the data, for example, seasonal changes in alcohol consumption:

Летом пиво, зимой водка, закон природы..

Beer in the summer, vodka in the winter – it’s a law of nature.

Still other are taking the news as a rallying cry to root out the real menace in Russian society:

The beer lobby is coercing Russia!

The comments section of the Gazeta.ru article is rife with clever reactions to the news. As Petr Ivanov joked,

Пить меньше – это непорядок. Такое поведение граждан подрывает основы экономики. Надо объявить иностранными агентами и лишить социальных прав всех, кто выпивает меньше четырех бутылок водки в месяц на каждого члена семьи.

Drinking less isn’t orderly. This behavior undermines the foundations of the economy. It’s necessary to declare as foreign agents and strip the social rights of all those who drink less than four bottles of vodka per month per family member.

Most, however, note that retail data do account for the consumption of moonshine. Early on in the economic crisis, experts warned that increased consumption of self-made alcohol could be dangerous and potentially lethal. For the most part, however, making moonshine is a relatively safe and popular tradition in Russian dachas, and is the explanation many have given for the decline in vodka sales. Russians are still drinking hard alcohol, they’re just finding more creative ways to get it. As Alisa Neonova wrote on Facebook,

Посмотрели бы они статистику продаж самогонных аппаратов – та же кривая только ввысь….не думаю, что пить стали меньше, скорее больше – тут уже нет ограничений в виде финансов – сколько нагонишь- все твоё…

If you look at the statistics on the sale of moonshine distillation equipment, it’s an upward trend. I don’t think that people are drinking less – they’re probably drinking more. With moonshine, there aren't any financial restrictions; whatever you make is all yours.

The growth of searches [for moonshine distilling instruments] confirms it!

As Gazeta.ru reader Aleksandr Kochmasov argued,

Смешно. Как Вы думаете что начинает в кризис делать русский мужик. При этом пиво он сам делать не умеет. Ну конечно ставить брагу и гнать самогон. Даже Москва начинает подсаживаться на самогон, но только собственного изготовления.

It's funny. What do you think a man does in a crisis? He can’t make beer, so of course he starts to brew moonshine. Even Moscow is beginning to get hooked on moonshine, but they make it their own particular way.

Russians aren't buying vodka because there are distilleries everywhere. As they say, buying spirits isn't a problem.

Regardless of the exact reason for the trend and whether beer really is becoming more popular than vodka, most agree that the crisis won’t seriously dampen the spirit of those seeking to drink a little (or a lot) in Russia.

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