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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Afanasy Beer to Hit Vegas for U.S. Debut

Tver-based brewer Afanasy thinks it has seen the future — and it's in Las Vegas.

It is there that, with a little luck and the help of a Ukrainian ?migr?, Afanasy hopes to make a name for itself and capture a small slice of the world's largest beer market.

The company will make its American debut Sept. 9-12 at the 64th annual international beer convention and trade fair in Las Vegas, courtesy of ABC Service, a South Carolina company that has agreed to make Afanasy-Pivo the third Russian brewer distributed in the United States.

The success of Afanasy's debut will determine how aggressively Afanasy will promote itself, said ABC Service founder and owner Michael Polyachenko.

Polyachenko, who immigrated to South Carolina in the 1970s, said by telephone Monday that he is a complete novice in the brewing business and came up with the idea to import Russian beer "absolutely" by accident.

"I was driving my car and saw an ad for Chinese beer and I thought, 'Why is there Chinese beer here but no Russian beer?' South Carolina is subtropical and people drink lots of beer here — beer from South America, Europe … but not Russia."

His first line of business, when he created ABC Service more than 20 years ago, was trading air conditioners and vacuum cleaners. But after a hurricane in 1989 demand bottomed out; he moved into importing timber from the former Soviet Union, which resulted in ABC posting between $3.5 million and $5 million in turnover every year since, he said.

He said he decided to contact Afanasy because "it makes good beer."

Afanasy liked the idea and already has high hopes.

"Maybe in a few years Russia will not only be associated in America with vodka and caviar, but also with Afanasy beer," said company spokesman Alexei Korobeinikov.

Afanasy makes around a dozen different brands of draft and stout beer and last year invested around $12 million to boost production to 10 million liters by the end of 2002.

But the domestic market is fiercely competitive and the company currently accounts for just 4 percent of total sales, according to Interfax.

"Producers are having to look for new markets because many new brands appeared this year, but market volume is not growing," said Maria Vakatova, Comcon research agency's business development director.

But the prospects of breaking into a market the size of the United States is daunting, analysts say. "To sell a new product in the U.S. requires a very serious advertising campaign, the taste and the quality of the product is not a key problem," said Andrei Ivanov, a retail analyst at Troika Dialog.

Despite the difficulties, Polyachenko's got a six-pack of confidence to go with a healthy dose of realism.

"I expect big losses first year, or even longer, before the product will find its consumer," said Polyachenko. "The beer will be strongly advertised … [and] I'm 99 percent sure the project will be successful."

Russia's largest brewer, Baltika, began U.S. exports last year, but volumes are less than 1 percent of total production. The only other Russian beer exported to the U.S. is Tinkoff, made by St. Petersburg entrepreneur Oleg Tinkov, but only 50,000 bottles a month.