Magazine article Newsweek

As Vodka Sales Drop, Why Are Russians Going off Their National Drink? It's Not Just Price-Vodka Is Becoming Uncool

Magazine article Newsweek

As Vodka Sales Drop, Why Are Russians Going off Their National Drink? It's Not Just Price-Vodka Is Becoming Uncool

Article excerpt

Byline: Damien Sharkov

For centuries, going back as far as the days of the czar Ivan the Terrible, vodka has been Russia's drink of choice. Another czar, Peter the Great, always kept a goblet of vodka at his palace banquets--downing it was the penalty for arriving late. Dmitri Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table, wrote his doctorate on the distillation of vodka in 1865. And legend has it that Josef Stalin's father used to give his baby son a cloth soaked with vodka, rather than a pacifier.

But now analysts claim the country's national spirit is being replaced by lighter, trendier and cheaper alternatives, such as hard cider. The latest proof: Sales figures from Russia's Federal State Statistics Service showing that legal sales of fruity cider climbed by 35 percent during the first three quarters this year. Vodka sales, however, barely budged.

This decline began gradually in 2007 as a new generation of Russians grew up with a wider variety of choices. But it's accelerated rapidly in recent years, as the country's economic crisis has worsened, thanks in part to Western sanctions and a drop in oil prices.

Vodka, it seems, is not only out of fashion for young Russians; it's also too expensive. Since 2013, the Russian government has made steep annual increases in the excise tax on alcohol. In 2014, the government also hiked the minimum price for vodka, as Russia's recession hit consumer spending. Since the start of the financial crisis two years ago, alcohol prices have risen by almost 21 percent. …

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