Russia's always had a bit of a reputation as a drinking capital. Some might argue that the scale of that reputation's a little unfounded (according to recent stats, there are three countries that throw more of the stuff down their throats), but most can see the point. Recent reclassifications might go some way to reducing the sheer volume: in a move aimed at allowing the sale of weaker alcohol to be controlled, beer and other drinks will be reclassified from foodstuff to an alcohol category in 2013. Incredibly, up until then, beer will remain classified as a 'foodstuff' alongside any other alcoholic substance that falls under a 10% cut off. The classification means that anyone of any age can buy alcohol of up to that strength, and anyone can consume it.
The BBC's report on the change of status comments that people in Russia are 'regularly consuming beer in the park as if it were a coffee or soft drink', and that beer is currently the fastest growing product in the alcohol market, with vodka sales down 30% over the past decade and beer sales up more than 40%. Beer can be bought un-restricted around the clock in any kiosk you can find open in Russia, and while American areas with a 21 year age restriction might contain youngsters looking on enviously, the sales have clearly become a problem locally. The average adult alcohol consumption in Russia is currently more than double what the World Health Organization considers to be a 'critical' level.
While beer (and other alcohol in the under 10% category) has already been pushed into a higher tax category for the past year, the new laws will also put into place restrictions that have become common across Europe. The time slots and manner of advertising will become more specific and targeted, and shops will need a license to sell the drink. They’ll also only be able to do so at particular hours. The restrictions will also prevent a common advertising strategy – putting about the idea that beer is a healthier alternative to spirits - from being used. Bottles will no longer be sold in sizes larger than one third of a litre, or in locations close to schools.
The most popular brand of beer in Russia at present is 'Baltika', while cities like St Petersburg demonstrate the comparison of beers and soft drinks with their incredibly high consumptions, sometimes as high as 90litres per year on average. Baltika currently controls around 40% of the Russian market, and is produced at fairly high strengths compared to typical beers. Baltika 9, in fact, is not far from the threshold of 'foodstuff' status at present, with an alcohol content of 8%, while several other Baltika brands are up around the 6 to 7% mark. It's difficult to see such vast levels of beer consumption dropping immediately, but if the new legislation stops us seeing photos of toddlers necking bottles of beer and saves a few lives, the move is more than worth it. Just expect to pay a little more for a night out in Russia next time you’re over!