Historical, Political and Economic Influences in Beer
by K. Patricia Manning
Though beer predates the modern nation-state by several millennia, its production and distribution has long been
tied to political power and inﬂuence—from the medieval role of monasteries to the crucial role of taxation of
commercial brewing in funding British imperialist conquests. It’s no surprise that 19th-century nationalist
movements drew on regional beer-drinking customs to support their causes. The Irish republican cause spread
through drinking songs over Guinness in rural pubs. Czech pivovars and German brauhauses in ethnically
diverse Bohemia became the means through which citizens mediated ethnic tensions and alliances.
The perpetually drizzling Britain and mild-seasoned Germany lack the warm Mediterranean conditions necessary
for vineyards. But they also don’t experience the frigid winters that characterize the spirits-drinking cultures of
Nordic and Eastern European countries. Geography has had an obvious historic inﬂuence on the production and
consumption of alcohol, as has ancestry, culture, religion, and economic trends.
Global beer consumption has long been concentrated in three nations: the US, Britain, and Germany. In 1960,
these three accounted for more than half of worldwide beer consumption by volume. Fifty years later, in 2010,
they claimed less than one quarter. What happened? The simple answer is: China, Russia, and Brazil—and fast.
Over the past decade, China surpassed the US as the single largest beer market, Russia overtook Germany, and
Brazil surpassed Britain. These simple observations suggest major changes in global beer markets but not what
caused them. It may be that beer consumption declined in the leading countries, or that beer drinking increased in
the emerging economies or in countries which traditionally consumed mostly other alcoholic beverages such as
spirits or wine. It turns out that all three are true. Markets in traditional beer-drinking nations are shrinking while
beer markets in emerging economies and in traditional wine- and spirits-drinking countries are growing.
The relationship between income and beer consumption is not ﬁxed; it changes when countries get richer. In other
words, the impact of increasing incomes in poor countries like China is different than increasing incomes in rich
countries like the US. For “emerging countries” there is a clear increase in beer consumption over the past
decades—a period of rapid income growth for most of these countries. Yet in the richer “beer-drinking nations,”
such as Germany, the US, and Belgium, where incomes have also increased, the evolution of beer consumption is
very different. It looks like what economists call “an inverted U-shaped correlation.” If people are poor and get
wealthier, they can afford to spend more, and they consume more beer. But at a certain data point this trend hits
a turning point, and beer consumption begins to fall as incomes rise.
Inhabitants of traditional beer-drinking nations travel more as incomes increase, they are exposed As traditional
beer-drinking nations get richer, they can afford to drink more exotic, imported beverages, to different tastes, and
they’re living in a more globalized world where the cost of imported wines and spirits has fallen. Declining prices
for imported wines and cosmopolitan tastes may make the traditional pilsners of their grandparents seem old
fashioned, as the next generation opts for something exotic: wine and spirits.
Interestingly, this trend works the opposite way in countries where spirits and wine were the traditional drink. While
Dubliners and Berliners now increasingly sip on wines, Parisians, Romans, and Russians now see an exotic
quality to beer that they didn’t before. As incomes increase in traditionally wine- and spirits-drinking nations, we
observe an increase in beer consumption.
(based on an article from Quartz.com)
|Opinions in all Special Reports are those of
the author and not BeerNexus. Submitted
material authorship is not verified.