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Russians sink more beer as tastes change

Are Russians getting soft? Mikhail Gorbachev tried - unsuccessfully - to curb vodka drinking. These days, though, it's the hazards of a boom in beer drinking that exercise legislators

Russia is famous as the land of vodka. But recently Russians' taste for beer has been growing fast. Having had one of the lowest levels of beer consumption in Europe in the 1980s, partly because of the poor quality of the Soviet brands, Russia now has one of the fastest-growing beer markets in the world.

Beer consumption grew by 10% in the first half of 2004. That was "much greater than everyone expected", says Natasha Zagvozdina, consumer analyst at Renaissance Capital. "We thought growth had peaked in 2003 but the figures this year have proved us wrong."

In 1996, annual per capita consumption of beer was 16 litres. Last year, it was 51 litres, and it is set to rise to 55 litres this year.

Zagvozdina says: "It could go up even further in the next few years, to 70 or 75 litres – on a par with the rest of Europe."

By contrast, vodka consumption is falling. In 2002, Russians' spending on beer outstripped that on vodka for the first time, according to Russian market research firm Business Analytica. Are Russians getting soft?

One 24-year-old, Dima, explains: "Beer is maybe seen as more of a young and successful person's drink here than vodka.

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