MANY Russians consider beer a soft drink – a light refresher that can be guzzled on the way to work or sucked down in great quantities before a picnic and a swim in the river.
Hard drinkers sniff at its weakness, as the saying goes: "Beer without vodka is like throwing money to the wind."
But a hungover nation will wake up to a new and troubling reality today when beer in Russia becomes classified as an alcoholic drink for the very first time.
Until now the brew has been considered a foodstuff along with all other drinks under 10pc in strength. An array of international and local brands from Amstel to Efes and Baltika to Zhiguli could be bought from street kiosks or at train stations, as well as from countless 24-hour shops, just like fruit juice or mineral water.
Morning or evening, people supping from cans or bottles are a common sight in parks, squares and on Moscow's Metro.
Beer's new status as alcohol, however, will prevent retail sales from street outlets such as kiosks, railway stations, bus stops and petrol stations – which account for up to 30pc of sales – as well as preventing sales between 11pm and 8am, and introducing a ban on TV advertising of beer.
The new restrictions were signed off by then President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011 as part of an attempt to counter alcohol abuse, which he earlier called a "national calamity".
The average Russian drinks the equivalent of 32 pints of pure alcohol per year and about 500,000 deaths annually are thought to be drink-related. (© Daily Telegraph, London)