SABMiller is to begin brewing Grolsch in Russia, expanding the lager brand's presence in the country by making it more affordable.

Russian Grolsch will be sold in 500ml cans and screw top bottles, while the beer will still be imported in its iconic swing-top bottle from the Netherlands, SABMiller said today (26 August).

The Russian-brewed version will be cheaper, an SABMiller spokesperson told just-drinks. "Improved efficiency costs will contribute to making it more affordable," she said.

Despite this, the UK-listed brewer said its Kaluga Brewery in Russia "will use the identical technology, processes and ingredients to those used in Enschede, Grolsch's home in the Netherlands". An expert from Enschede will monitor the lager's quality once brewing begins.

The launch of a less expensive Grolsch in Russia comes as the country suffers severely from the global economic downturn.

Russia's gross domestic product shrank by a record 10.9% in the second quarter of 2009 and the economic malaise has left its mark on the beer sector, with all major players reporting lower sales this year.

SABMiller reported beer sales by volume down 9% in Russia in its fiscal first quarter, to the end of June, although the firm's market share remained level.

"By brewing Grolsch locally we are extending our presence in the important 'licensed' segment of the Russian beer market," said SABMiller Russia MD Grant Harries.

"Grolsch will play an increasingly important role in our portfolio here and we now have the flexibility to make the brand affordable to a wider range of consumers."

Grolsch is the fifth largest imported beer by volume in Russia, according to SABMiller, but the group said it does not disclose specific volume figures for individual brands.

The new locally brewed Grolsch will be supported by an advertising campaign featuring "famous unconventional Russians", such as Denis Simachev, Alexey Zimin and Sergey Minaev.