Court Dismisses Beer Spiking Suit

VedomostiBeer lovers at a 2009 beer festival. The Russian Beer Union was far less thrilled by a top official's allegations last year of spiked beer.

The Moscow Arbitration Court on Thursday rejected a lawsuit from the Russian Beer Union that sought a retraction from a government official who claimed that brewers spiked their beer with hard alcohol.

In December, Yevgeny Bryun, head drug control official at the Health and Social Development Ministry, accused beer makers of spiking beer with alcohol to make it stronger. He said at the time that ethyl alcohol was added to strong beers with 16 percent to 18 percent alcohol content to regulate the fermentation process.

The beer union said it may appeal the verdict, but will not make a decision until it receives the official court decision, said Yulia Khramaikova, the union's spokeswoman.

"The question of adding alcohol to beer was not even discussed at today's court hearing," the union said in a statement, adding that it believes the reason for the court's rejection of the suit was that it didn't recognize the union as a legitimate plaintiff.

The union, a grouping of 34 Russian beer makers that account for 95 percent of all beer produced in the country, filed a suit against Bryun in January, demanding that he retract his remarks. Interfax and TV Center, which carried his remarks, were named codefendants in the lawsuit when the case was first presented in April.

The union says Bryun's remarks resulted in a change in the public's attitude toward beer. A consumer opinion study commissioned by the union showed that the remarks changed the attitude of one in 10 customers, said Andrei Volkov, a marketing director at Gortis, the consumer research company that conducted the study.

Seven percent of respondents said they would stop drinking beer, while 6 percent said they would reduce their beer consumption because of their belief that most brewers add alcohol to beer, he told The Moscow Times.

"Regardless of the legal nuances, the objective reality is that no alcohol is added during brewing. Alcohol is a byproduct of brewing," the union's statement said.

Bryun's remarks came as beer makers were entering a tough economic environment, In January, a law went into effect tripling the excise tax on beer from 3 rubles per liter to 9 rubles.

The tax increase hit brewers hard. Beer output over the first four months of the year fell 20 percent from the same period the year before, according to data from the State Statistics Service.

Earlier this week, Carlsberg, whose unit Baltika has a 40 percent market share, said it expects the Russian beer market to shrink as much as 13 percent this year, Reuters reported.

Irina Filatova contributed to this report.

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