"Crisis in German Beer"
Steven Walters

A threatening new word made its appearance on the German media stage in the mid-
1990s. Brauereisterben. Dubbed after the term for Germany's dying forests, the word
predicted the decline of the nation's breweries. The frothy favorite of thirsty
Germans, the beer brewing industry started warning 10 years ago, was heading for a
crisis. And they were right. Just released statistics released show that German
brewing has dropped to less than 100 million hectoliters of production for the first
time since reunification in 1990. (That's less than half of the United States' annual
output.) The same study revealed that consumption dropped almost 3 % last year
alone, to 101.8 liters per person per year, and that it's down about one-third overall
since the previous generation. The number of breweries in the country has also
dropped—by about half over the last few decades to around 1,300. (There are
nearly 1,700 up and running in the U.S.) The vaunted Weihenstephan brew master
degree program in Munich says that the majority of its graduates don't actually
become brew masters but instead head for other jobs.   Further evidence of
brauereisterben is depressingly easy to pile on. Berlin, which sustained some 700
breweries in the early 19th century, now counts only about a dozen firms.  Seeing the
downward trend highly trained German brew masters are now giving up and heading
to the United States to join in their craft beer renanisance.

Some Germans blame the downturn on the nation's declining birth rate and aging
population.  Others say that bored young Germans are abandoning the entire
alcoholic genre of beer itself. They're flocking to mixed and energy drinks like
Bacardi's Rigo and Austria's amped-up export, Red Bull, whose sales surged 18
percent in Germany during 2010.  In Germany beer and wine are legal for 16-year-
olds who are buying beverages with higher percentages of alcohol than beer but with
enough sugar and juices to completely disguise the taste of alcohol.

Some analysts say the move away from beer can partially be laid at the door of
intense government campaigns warning citizens of the dangers of drinking and
driving and over-consumption. An increased emphasis on healthy lifestyles and
fitness has also played a big role.   Beer, many now believe, makes you fat .

However, the most likely culprit for the brauereisterben is the country's very definition
of beer. Germany's brewing industry has, for nearly 500 years now, marched under
the banner of the Reinheitsgebot (literally, "purity commandment"). A law enacted in
1516 to control prices and shield the baking industry from supply shortages by
excluding rye and wheat from brewing, the Reinheitsgebot stipulated that beer must
contain only malted barley, hops, and water (wheat and yeast were written in later).

While the Reinheitsgebot was actually overturned in 1987 as an impediment to
European free trade, many German companies adhere to it for marketing purposes,
especially in Bavaria. When it comes to beer for local consumers it's still the de facto
law of the land.  Initially, the Reinheitsgebot improved the state of German beer
quality immensely and helped make Germany's brewers world famous for quality.

Trouble is, the Reinheitsgebot is now working against the very industry it was
supposed to preserve. For one, it puts a vice grip on innovation by demonizing
flavor- or body-enhancing additions of any kind: oats, ancient grains (such as spelt,
millet, and sorghum), spices, herbs, honey, flowers other than hops, and any other
natural fermentable starches and sugars. This taboo rules out trying Belgian,
French, and New World brewing styles, which often call for refermentation in the
bottle with sugar in a manner similar to Champagne.

Technically, when the Reinheitsgebot was officially replaced in 1993 by something
called the Vorläufiges Deutsches Biergesetz—Provisional Beer Laws—additions of
beet sugar, pure cane sugar, and invert sugar were made legal in top-fermenting
beers, a category which includes the iconic beer style of hefeweizen. But the industry
has almost universally kept up the old purity routine. And while it's feasible to stay
within the Reinheitsgebot strictures while trying new combinations and  techniques,
manybrewers seem to think that following the spirit of the law means the letter of the
law. As a result, many modern German brewers shun experimentation.
There are only about 20 common styles used for brewing in Germany whereas craft
brewers in the United States are working ably in at least 100.

Another issue is that the hypnotic marketing force of Reinheitsgebot may make
Germans less sophisticated tasters by limiting their perception of what a good beer
can be. When asked, many Germans tend to think poorly of beers in a foreign style.

German beer brewers have responded by trying to make their products more
attractive to young consumers. The brewer's association is doing what they can to
help beer makers improve on the drink's stody image. Forums, congresses and
conventions on topics ranging from the length of a beer-bottle's neck to improving
marketing to highlight the two-year difference in the drinking age between beer and
harder drinks are the order of the day.  They have an uphill battle ahead.

Brauereisterben- Oh No