Saturday, June 09, 2012

National Brewers Day - Celebrating Russia's Brewing Industry

The second Saturday in June is National Brewers Day in Russia.  This is the date chosen by the Russian brewing trade group known as the Union of Russian Producers of Beer and Soft Drinks.

Today, a little over two decades after the fall of communism in Russia in 1991, the twelve year old brewer’s trade group and the brewing industry itself offer a glimpse of the massive economic change, and the prosperity that has accompanied that change, that has occurred in Russia.

While workers groups were common in the old Soviet Union, trade groups are a product of the post-Soviet era.  

Under communism, production and other economic decisions were made by  bureaucrats.  Consumers had no say in the process and were left to purchase and consume whatever was available.  Planners, managers and workers got paid regardless of whether consumers purchased the products they produced or not.  

With no market prices to guide them and no profit to motivate them, workers and managers simply sought to produce the quantity planners decided upon.  

So long as a bottle factory produced the required number of bottles and a brewery produced the target quantity of beer things were fine.  This despite the fact that the bottle factory was often located in one part of the nation and the brewery in another and no means to get the bottles to the brewery or no means to get the bottled beer to stores.  

Quality was poor while shortages and misallocations were common. However, that was life under communism.

With the switch from communism to a market economy things changed.  Now, consumers no longer have to settle for low quality goods or buy vodka instead of beer when vodka is all that is available.

Today, Russian drinkers can not only have their choice of beverage types but also have the opportunity to choose between competing brands of the same beverage.  Gone are long lines outside of stores, half empty shelves inside and having to settle for whatever is available.  

Not only are there a variety of beverages to choose from on store shelves, there are also a variety of competing brands for each type of beverage.  

A 2011 census of breweries estimated that there were between 600 and 1,000 companies operating breweries in Russia.  Other sources estimate that, of these, about 40 large companies produce the majority of beer with smaller local operations and restaurants producing for their own use, making up the remainder.

So, let us lift our glasses and toast Russian brewers and their accomplishments in the new Russia.

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