No Craft Beer fixture for the World Cup

Russia is a country that seemingly enjoys the mystery that surrounds it.  It enjoys the appearance of impenetrability.  World politics is a game in which participation is more important than a victory.  Stage-managed democracy is its public image.

In less than 48-hours the eyes of the world will be facing towards the Russian Bear as the country hosts its first World Cup, despite the resounding controversies over its methods to win the 2018 tournament.  Putting aside any fear of internal violence or concerns about the country’s alleged behaviour towards its former spies in foreign territories, many overseas visitors will be visiting the 11 host cities over the next month to support their national team.  Visitors should presumably be safe during their visit, shielded from internal strife by a government who wants the world to see how hospitable and benevolent it is in Russia.

What does this mean for beer and, more importantly, beer-loving football fans arriving in the world’s largest country?

Russia has an awe-inspiring Craft Beer and Craft Cider scene, as demonstrated by the recent Moscow Big Craft Day and the increasing attendance of wonderful Russian brewers and cider-makers at beer events in western Europe.  However, this is likely to be bittersweet for many World Cup visitors to Russia who face alcohol bans and strict measures to control beer choice and consumption.

In Moscow, for example, visitors face restrictions on purchasing beer in pubs, bars, cafés, restaurants and beer-stores.  Sales and consumption of beer is limited to the World Cup stadiums and dedicated ‘fan zones’.  This of course means the choice of available beers will limited, with Craft Beers unlikely to outdo the industrial giants when vying for an outlet.

Craft Beer is assured of exclusion from the World Cup by information in the Official Recommendations for Beer that mentions only national and international homogenous lagers.  The recommendations state, for example, that lager retaining a foamy head for less than 3-minutes is a poor-quality beer.  The decisions about which lagers can be sold during the World Cup have seemingly resulted from tests into head-retention.

In a bizarre twist, the World Cup Organizing Committee is allowing visitors to bring marijuana, cocaine and heroin to the stadiums, so long as visitors can produce (potentially spurious) documentation to prove it is for medical use.

The industrial brewers have, of course, raised concerns about the limited availability of beers in Moscow (and potentially other cities) during the World Cup, not because of any desire to increase sales and monopolise the tournament, but due to the availability of cheap, illegal alcohol.  With many reports suggesting 50% or more of all premature deaths in Russia are alcohol-related, it is somewhat foolish to implement a ban on beer knowing visitors may seek alternatives that are untested, unsafe, unregulated and consequently potentially lethal.

Rarely has the world of beer witnessed such thoughtless officialdom wielding its power in such an imprudent manner.  This behaviour is simply reinforcing negative stereotypes, especially when Russia hopes the World Cup will increase interest in Russian Tourism and swell future visitor numbers.