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8 Jan, 2008 09:37

Brewers ‘cheat’ Russian beer drinkers

As international beer brands grow in popularity across the country, more and more of them are made in Russia – using local ingredients. But experts say consumers are being cheated. RT got the maker of the world’s oldest lager brand from the Cze

Pilsner Urquell is the world's original golden beer, and some say the finest. It's also the most imitated – brands Efes, Beck's and Holsten Pils are all based on the Czech lager.

The taste comes from the area's unique soft water and hops. But now it has cut costs by setting up its first production abroad, using foreign ingredients.

RT went to a Russian store and bought a beer that claimed to be the original golden beer, born in Pilsen in the Czech Republic. But closer inspection reveals it was made in Kaluga, South of Moscow, with Russian hops and Russian water.

We also bought an original Czech specimen.

After tasting both, locals say the Czech one is much better than the Russian-made beer. Experts too say consumers are being tricked.

“It's a con, it's deceptive. The public are being deliberately misled by adverts and brand names which suggest beers are foreign” said Iain Loe, research manager of Campaign for Real Ale.

The firm’s spokesman said Russia would remain its only beermaker outside Pilsen, and admitted the Russian ingredients differed from the original.

Russia is Europe's fastest-growing beer market. There are also breweries in practically every region, now offering to produce foreign brands for less.

But management consultants A.T.Kearney said those most at risk of a consumer backlash were precisely elite brands like Pilsner and St.-Petersburg-made Guinness, whose customers pay for unquestionable quality and image.

The reality is most foreign food brands today are made in Russia. But whereas the cocoa in Mars bars all over the world is imported from Africa, beer trades on its local water and hops flavour. The question is this: as Russian consumers grows more savvy, will they reject what some are calling a marketing con.