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German Beer Culture Dying; Will the United States Save It?

oktoberfestflickrinfrogmation.jpg
Flickr user Infrogmation
The saviors of Oktoberfest?
The big food story going around the Internet right now is Slate's piece on the decline in Germany's beer culture. It's a relatively well-written piece, with a lot of history and anecdotes thrown in, but something nagged throughout--hadn't I read this before?

Indeed, I had--kind of.

Back in 2005, the German magazine Der Spiegel ran a piece on the same phenomenon, starting off with the exact intro that Slate used: an explanation of the term brauereisterben, the German phrase used to describe the death of the beer industry. It was coined during the mid-1990s, a fact both Slate and Der Spiegel pointed out.

But that's where the articles take different roads: Der Spiegel (which knows a little bit about Germany, given it covers the country) put the blame on a declining population and the younger set's gravitational pull toward other alcoholic drinks (the two articles even mentioned the same alcoholic drink, Bacardi Rigo, as a beverage on the rise), while Slate author Christian DeBenedetti claims its the German beer itself that has suffered a decline in quality, and that American brew-meisters and their microbrewery styles will save German beer culture from itself.

Or maybe I'm just biased on the issue, being I'm a bourbon man-child and all..

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Adam
Adam

I found this article very interesting.   I think that brewery consolidation is a large part to the decline in beer culture much like it was before the craft beer revolution in the US. But keep perspective, Beer Barons, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Carlsberg, and Oetker have chewed up and closed down many German brewery operations over the years. These corporate beer conglomerations have been troublesome for the remainder of smaller private breweries. Larger brewing operations can produce beer more efficiently than smaller breweries and can sell beer at lower prices. As a result, smaller breweries must reduce profit margins to offer competitive prices – the strong are getting stronger as the weak are get weaker. When it comes to marketing budgets, small breweries cannot compete with Beer Barons. Once upon a time, the names of local breweries were beautifully headlined on neighborhood café umbrellas, lamps, menu boards, and glassware, but those days are over. Instead, you now see Beck’s (from Bremen) marketed in Bavaria and Löwenbräu (from Munich) promoted in Berlin. Similar to the US, German brewing giants control distribution and retail by quantity, leaving private beer labels shoved in the corner of the market place.   Of course, the German beer industry states that an aging population and declining birth rate are the cause of “Brauereisterben,” or brewery death, and the industry selectively dismisses that brewery consolidation is the leading cause. Centuries of small brewpubs, local brews, and beer rivalries (Kölsch versus Alt) fueled the diversity, brand loyalty, and excitement in German beer culture – but now, with the homogeneous and uninspiring selection of German beers, it’s no wonder young Germans lack allegiance and are turning away from beer. Culture needs flavor. I suspect that Germans have had enough of the manufactured, corner cutting, high-profit-yielding brews that are void of creative passion. The western world, excluding Germany, has been experiencing a craft beer revolution that has had the Beer Barons worried since the early 90’s. Young beer lovers are attracted to the “variety” that craft beer has to offer, the clever labels, the stories behind each brew, and the art of brewing—all of which revive beer culture. For marketing purposes, most German beers are still adhering to their beloved revised Reinheitsgebot, which limits beer ingredients to only Malt, Hops, Water, Wheat (if used in an ale), and Yeast. But with craft beers, the beer glass is a blank canvas that can be filled with an assortment of ingredients, including oats, rye, honey, molasses, berries, oak, chocolate, and coffee, to name a few.  Störtebeker markets their brands in a fashion to bring back the thrill of beer, as seen in their assorted Treasure Chest, or “Schatzkiste,” six-pack. This clever grab box is stimulating, especially compared to the competitors packaging. It does not depict images of monks, churches, or state flags—nope—instead there’s a pirate ship, colorful labels, and beer descriptions on each bottle. In addition, the Treasure Chest offers a Pilsener, Schwarzbier, Kellerbier, and Hefe Weizen, along with two rarities not normally available to the average German consumer: the Roggen-Weizen (Rye Wheat) and the Hanse-Porter (attributing to the Hanseatic City of Stralsund). These pioneering beers are what differentiate Störtebeker from the vast majority of German brewers. First, the Roggen-Weizen, brewed with rye and wheat malts, has unique twist on that commonly found in Dunkelweizen. Second, a Baltic Porter back in Deutschland? Halle-“F”ing-lujah! In the land of lagers, I smile at this infiltration of non-wheat ale sneaking on to supermarket shelves. To put this in context: the sweet, thick, and malty German Baltic Porters (almost all brewed in the former East) suffered a terrible blow during German reunification, as the inefficient and ill-equipped breweries couldn’t compete in the new market economy; Baltic Porters were wiped out in Germany. By the year 2000, they had reemerged in small pubs, but until Störtebeker few had made an effort to bring this beer style back to market shelves. As if one porter was not enough, Störtebeker has two more in their arsenal (sold separately), the Stark-Bier and the Choco-Porter, which makes the port town of Stralsund the Porter capital of Germany. But is this clever packaging and exposure to rarities enough to restore a crippled beer culture?  More about this is on my blog post. http://thegravityflux.com/?p=7...

S. Britchky
S. Britchky

I can't imagine how German beer could have "suffered a decline in quality," when brewers can use only water, hops, malt, and yeast in their product. Suddenly, after centuries, the Prussians of process can't control a four-ingredient product?

I've had only wonderful beer in Germany and am much more willing to believe that any small decline in "beer culture" comes from the fact that their young people are like our young people. Without knowing exactly what they want they know they want change. So, instead of a beautifully smooth, complex, and drinkable beer made by master brewers, they want something sweetish that a 25-year-old marketing genius dreamed up for Bacardi or Smirnoff. Just pour it on crushed ice, Baby!

Fine, who cares? Eventually, the yoots will be over 30 and longing for their roots, which are way over 30 and run deep in Deutschland. Now, if you want to talk about the decline of the accordion culture ...

Claudia Koerner
Claudia Koerner

Anecdotal evidence: When I visit my cousins, no one orders beer to drink. It's all vodka (with redbull, orange juice or Bitter Lemon).

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

I am continually stunned by the popularity of bitter lemon over here. Even the most remote mountain malga/rifugio/Hütte will have a tap of beer, a tap of Coca-Cola and a tap of bitter lemon Almost as stunned as I am sad that not a single bar in the whole Tirol seems to stock the best partner to bitter lemon: gin.

That said, I am not in Germany, so who knows. Südtirol and the Dolomiti have a couple of craft breweries, one of which makes a red beer infused with the local radicchio.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Germans who eschew beer? What's next—Mexicans who don't bother with Bud?

Phil Nigash
Phil Nigash

Germany has been its own worst enemy when it comes to beer. The Reinheitsgebot (beer purity law) was both a blessing and a curse to the growth of new breweries throughout that country. If you squelch creativity and individualism, you won't see anything progress. I don't care if it's beer, wine, food, art, whatever.

When things go stale, interest wanes. Before the craft beer revolution we experienced in this country, the big three (Bud, Miller, Coors) had a stranglehold on beer. And it was so boring, beer was a punchline to a joke. Now it's rivaling wine on the dinner table.

If Germany wants to see a true beer revolution, they should either lighten up on their tight regulations, or drop them altogether. Only then will true beer freedom reign.

Jeff Overley
Jeff Overley

Germany still has some top-shelf stuff - I've got a Schneider Aventinus just begging to be released from the fridge. That said, the author is right to suggest Team America is coming to the rescue. The U.S. not long ago was a laughingstock when it came to suds; now it's leading the way. L.A. Times had a recent story on the subject.

http://articles.latimes.com/20...

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