SAB's beer volumes in the fourth quarter grew ahead of the group's average for the full year, a trading statement showed this week. The late rise kept SAB's performance in line with management expectations and will provide some reassurance after the group recently lost its licence to Amstel lager in South Africa. Decent weather conditions, including a milder winter in Eastern Europe and more sun in South Africa, were the main reasons for the fourth quarter surge. Volumes in South America rose 14 per cent in the fourth quarter, ahead of the 12 per cent average for the year, while organic growth in Europe grew 15 per cent in the final three months, against an 11 per cent year average. A similar spike in volumes also occurred in South Africa and, to a lesser extent, North America. China appeared as the star emerging market for SABMiller in 2006. Lager volumes were up 30 per cent in the country, thanks to SAB's continued devotion to building a national beer brand there, Snow. SAB has a 49 per cent share in Snow's owner, CRSnow, which is already the largest brewer by volume in China's affluent eastern provinces, ahead of domestic beer brand Tsingtao by 15 per cent. In January, the group signed a deal to buy the remaining 38 per cent of shares in the Blue Sword group, which owns 14 breweries in China's Sichuan province, a region relatively undeveloped by multinational brewers. SAB's global lager volumes rose 23 per cent for the year up to 31 March, with organic growth at 10 per cent, although the rise was partially offset by higher input costs - particularly in North America, the brewer said.