State of German Beer
The German beer industry is at the dawn of significant changes. This is true both for large commercial breweries and the small start-up “craft” breweries that are starting to sell their beers across the country. Depending on whom you ask, it is either the worst time it has been to be a brewer in over half a century – or there has never been a better time to brew beer in Germany!
This odd dichotomy signals a tectonic shift in German brewing. Because the landscape is changing so rapidly, we have decided to capture a snapshot of beer developments from the past year. Here is a brief summary of some of the major changes we have observed with beer in Germany in 2014: The State of German Beer 2014
The Trouble with German Lager
Consumption of beer in Germany continues to drop year on year. A shrinking population, fewer young people taking to beer and the move from physical labour to desk jobs have all been cited as reasons why the sales have fallen to their lowest since German reunification.
It didn’t help the industry when five breweries were fined €106.5M in January 2014 for illegally colluding to fix the price of beer in the period between 2006-2008. These breweries included Krombacher, Bitburger, Veltins, Warsteiner and Barre. Less than three months later, six more breweries, including Carlsberg’s German division and Radeberger would be fined a further €231.2 for a similar offense.
Increasing focus on the export market will be the only way the large breweries will be able to survive. It is no surprise then that the German Brewers Association applied to the German Purity Law to attain UNESCO World Heritage status last December, to bolster the reputation of German beer abroad.
The rise of the German craft beer brewer
While the large breweries were being penalised with heavy fines, there has been a groundswell of interest in “craft beer” brewing: countless numbers of young brewers have taken their inspiration from North American and other European craft breweries and are differentiating themselves from traditional German brewing roots and are brewing (for the most part) top-fermenting (ale) styles, hop-heavy beers and experimental new hybrids. Craft brewers, several of whom would have been happy to report any profits in 2013, are now distributing their beers across the country to bars and bottle-shops, eager to get their hands on the latest brews.
Large breweries experimenting with craft beer styles
Not to be outdone by these young upstarts, many of the established breweries are also keen to try their hands with these foreign styles, with varying degrees of success. In the last year, Bitburger has bravely released a Pale Ale and a Belgian Witbier under their “Köstritzer Meisterwerke” brand. “Craft Werk”, another Bitburger brand has released a Pale Ale, an IPA and a Belgian Tripel.
The IPA has arrived in Germany and is here to stay
The poster beer of the U.S. craft beer movement – the IPA – is the beer style that through its in-your-face hop expression starts most beer drinkers on their journey of discovery through the new beer landscape.With IPAs now available in German supermarkets (Crew Republic’s “Drunken Sailor” IPA on the shelves of REWE), you can be assured that the beer style will only grow a larger following in the years to come.
Imported beers: Germany finally a viable market
American, British, Belgian and Scandinavian breweries are targeting German beer drinkers, ready to explore non-traditional styles. One year ago, it was impossible to purchase beers from Victory Brewing (US), BrewDog (UK), Mikkeller (DK) or Omnipollo (SE). Now these breweries have distribution within Germany and are starting to appear on specialist beer shelves and bar menus.
2014 is also the year that a US Brewer, Stone Brewing Company, launched the construction of its European brewing operations in Berlin, to be completed by end of 2015.
Craft beer bars with kegged ales
Another significant change is the arrival of the specialist craft beer bar serving kegged ales. Up until recently, beer enthusiasts would share bottles in the privacy of their own homes or at beer tasting events. Now, kegged versions of top-fermented beers are being served at bars in several German cities – albeit on a small scale at the moment.
Although it may not be the norm, beer enthusiasts have shown that they are willing to pay up to 6-7€ per half liter for premium craft beers.
Resurging interest in Traditional German Styles
Almost extinct in their native Germany, traditional sour styles such as Berliner Weisse and Gose had become popular with craft beer enthusiasts outside of Germany over the past five years or so. Now these styles are starting to be brewed in their country of origin again. At least four new beers in the Berliner Weisse style and two new Gose interpretations have been launched by German brewers in the last year, with several more in the pipeline.
Home Brewing is taking off
In a country that prides itself on technical brewing excellence, brewing beer has traditionally been the preserve of the trained brewer. However, in recent years, there has been a growing home-brewing community, interested in crafting beers on a small scale. In 2014, this interest has become more widespread, with groups meeting on a regular basis, home-brewing competitions taking off and even physical home-brew supplies stores opening up to cater for the growing need.
Foto: Beer via Shutterstock