Beer Consumption in Central Asia

by Nathan Hamm on 4/25/2006 · 11 comments

RFE/RL reports that beer consumption is skyrocketing in Central Asia.

“Clearly, market research in countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, is at a lower level of sophistication than it is in, say, Russia or China,” he says. “But I’ve seen massive volume growth in both Russia and China in terms of the beer market, and all the indications are that in Kazakhstan, in Turkmenistan, in Uzbekistan, beer is on a steady upward growth curve.”

Silvester cites a recent market-research report in Central Asia and the Caucasus carried out by the beer-market consultancy Plato Logic. The report found that, from 2002 to 2005, beer consumption in Turkmenistan grew by a staggering 177 percent. Other Central Asian countries are not far behind. Kyrgyzstan has shown a 112 percent increase, Kazakhstan a 75 percent increase, and Tajikistan a 71 percent rise.

Two beer industry workers interviewed for the story cite a handful of reasons for the rise in consumption.

  • Central Asians are becoming more like Europeans in a large number of ways, including alcohol consumption
  • Higher disposable incomes
  • Health considerations
  • “Equalization” — a process in which beer-drinking countries increase wine and spirits consumption and vice-versa.

None of these explanations seem too intuitive to me. I think that the issue of quality is very important, and I am surprised it was not mentioned especially because a Baltika employee is quoted in the story. I picked up some Baltikas at the supermarket the other day for nostalgia’s sake and to see if they were better than last time I’d had them. They were better. In fact, since I first tried Baltika seven years ago in Russia, I have noticed constant improvements in quality, and I know that they are not the only brand to have improved over the years. When I was in Uzbekistan, I drank some pretty atrocious swill passed off as beer. I got used to it, but then again, I am a beer drinker. I did find a fair number of fairly good-quality beers brewed in Uzbekistan way back when I was there, and those are the only ones I noticed being downed by locals with much enthusiasm. So based on anecdotal evidence at least, I think that the availability of higher quality beer than in years past is an important precondition to the increased consumption.

Image taken from this very cool website.


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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 10 comments }

Rustam April 25, 2006 at 12:58 pm

Yee, Olmaliq and Chimkent pivosi!!!! Those were happy times, beer and Kent 8, perfect!!!
If we did not have this ridiculously high customs duties on beer, I bet you would see at least doubling of the consumption in Uzbekistan. Because, although we like vodka, it requires a special circumstances, I mean You have to be really f..ed up or in the birthdays, celebrations, where as beer is more milder, you can have it after work, everyday.

Peter April 25, 2006 at 2:07 pm

Nathan,

You may be enjoying the export Baltika that they sell is the States, but don’t think that has anything to do with the rat’s piss that is sold in Russia or anywhere else in the CIS. In actual fact, as any beer drinker in Russia will tell you, standards have been dropping drastically over the last few years. The last time I tasted a decent Baltika in Russia was around 1999. In 2001, it was Bochkaryov, and the last time I checked you could just about drink some half-decent Starii Melnik.
On the Uzbek front, there was some weird brand, the name of which I can’t remember, that I bought while on a walk in the hills overlooking Charvak. It looked like it had been strained through a tramp’s underpants, but I remember it having a delightful honey aftertaste that will long stay with me. Mind you, I had just been walking for about 30 kilometres, so my judgement was probably not up to scratch.
What does surprise me about this story is that in my experience beer can get you into quite some trouble with the cops in Tashkent. If they so much as smell beer on your breath, you might as well be drunk. I would have thought that alone would keep consumption down. Perhaps Uzbekistan-based people out there can offer us some enlightenment on this front.

Peter April 25, 2006 at 2:09 pm

Plus, for British readers, I was quite tickled by the fact that one of the most popular brands of beer in Turkmenistan is called Berk. Nice stuff it is too.

Nathan April 25, 2006 at 3:24 pm

Peter, true enough on the stuff I recently had. But the Baltika I had in Uzbekistan was better than the stuff I’d had before in Russia. Still, there were Uzbek beers that I found to be much better than Baltika.

I never had any trouble with cops after I’d been drinking surprisingly enough.

Nick April 25, 2006 at 3:35 pm

Is there any evidence of the attitude that beer is regarded as a “soft drink”, and therefore “healthier” than vodka? Moreover, as a fully paid-up real-ale snob, my heart sank when I read this sentence:

“BBH, a joint venture between Carlsberg and Scottish & Newcastle of the United Kingdom, owns 18 breweries in the Baltic countries and the CIS.”

I can’t see how that is good news for Central Asia. Back to the vodka, boys!

Nathan April 25, 2006 at 3:57 pm

I don’t necessarily think there is any such evidence. I think it’s more like what Rustam said. It’s a lot easier to have a mellow time with it.

My quality point–perhaps not made too well–is that there is far more drinkable brews available than in the past. I think that proliferation has greatly contributed to the rise in consumption.

jodi April 25, 2006 at 5:55 pm

I was surprised to read this. I remember how beer in Kyrgyzstan was too expensive for people to buy so they only got it on very special occassions and one bottle was shared among many people.

Glad to hear personal incomes over there now allow this luxury on a more regular basis!

Brian April 25, 2006 at 9:45 pm

I don’t know, but could the answer be advertising? I mean Baltika and other beers are produced by major companies that can pump out a lot of ads, while it seems that most every day vodka in central asia is produced by small local distillers. Have the central asian airwaves been swamped by a lot of beer ads lately?

KJ April 25, 2006 at 10:23 pm

I’m a former beer home-brewer who also spent much of his free time tasting beers from around the world at the the famous Brickseller in Wash, DC, which carries the world’s largest beer list. While not a certified beer judge (5 year process with many dropouts), I do consider beer-tasting and judging a hobby.

Therefore, I would like to add my two-cents on the subject. Baltika 6 and 8 are great clone beers of a real Porter and Hefeweizen. The local Nashe Pivo and Arash, here in Kyrgyzstan aren’t too bad. Especially if it hasn’t been sitting un-refrigerated in the sun all day. While Central Asia is not the Belguim of beers, the local brands are working their way up. And we even have one halfway decent brew-pub that sells beer to go at a slightly high price.

Nick April 26, 2006 at 6:01 am

Mind you, at this rate Central Asia will doubtless see a legal dispute between Budvar and Budweiser over trademark and distribution rights, just as the rest of the world already has ….

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