Sunday, July 21, 2013

Window on Eurasia: As Vodka Prices Rise in Russia, Demand for Moonshine Equipment Does as Well

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 21 – As vodka prices rise in Russia as a result of various state policies, some Russians are turning as they traditionally have done to potentially dangerous surrogates, but ever more are taking advantage of their right to produce spirits on their own, to judge from surging demand at online equipment stores.

            According to “Rossiyskaya gazeta,” most Russians are doing so because of rising prices for commercially produced liquors, but some are doing so for “romantic” notion” and out of a sense of “family pride.” And it suggests that these home producers are illegally selling about  20 percent of their production (

            The Moscow Center for the Study of Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets now estimates that Russians are producing “not less than 250 million liters” of home brew or “samogon” each year at a cost of less than 40 rubles (1.3 US dollars) each. That is far less than the 170 rubles (4.2 US dollars) vodka costs in the stores.

            “Rossiyskaya gazeta” queried owners and employees at “more than ten major producers and sellers of samogon equipment” to get some idea about the growth in this sector of the Russian economy. All of those with whom the paper spoke said there had been significant increases in consumer interest and demand.

            Yevgeny Demidov, a representative of one of the largest Internet-based suppliers of such equipment, said that his sales had increased by 500 percent over the last year, largely because of rising vodka prices in the stores.  He said that the average samogon equipment package costs 15,000 rubles (480 US dollars).

            Aleksey Kozhekin, the head of the liquor department of another Moscow store, also reported increases in sales.  He said his company is selling about 25 samogon kits a day, mostly to people in the regions and even to small towns “where the post doesn’t go.”  He said that the average cost of such kits “does not exceed 10,000 rubles” (330 US dollars).

                People in rural areas report “a curious tendency,” he added.  If one resident purchases a samogon kit, soon another does as well. Moreover, he suggested, in many cases, price had less to do with this trend than a desire of many more well-off Russians to consume “higher quality alcohol” and their delight in producing it themselves.

            But Vadim Drobiz, the head of the Moscow Center for the Study of Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets, said that price is the main driver. He said that some of this new product may be as dangerous to public health as the surrogates such as perfume and cleaning fluids that poorer Russians have often turned to when vodka prices have gone up.

            Nonetheless, the expert suggested, samogon production is likely to increase and Russian “samogon will be just as well-known as French cognac or Scottish whiskey.”  Indeed, he concluded, “it is possible that a special word will appear to designate Russian samogon, [possibly] one like the American ‘moonshine.’”

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