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Why Germans are losing their taste for beer

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Why Germans are losing their taste for beer
Photo: DPA/EPA
15:50 CET+01:00
The amount of beer Germans drink annually has plummeted by roughly a third since the 1970s. So why are Germans seemingly turning up their noses at their traditional beverage?

Last week the Bavarian Brewers’ Association reported a small drop in sales, down by 1.1 percent between 2016 and 2015. And while this decline is a small one, it represents a larger decrease over time in Germans’ consumption of beer.

In the mid-1970s, Germans each drank on average about 150 litres of beer per year. By 1991, that number had already fallen to 141.9 litres per person, according to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and by 2015 this decreased to 105.9 litres - about two-thirds of what it was in the 1970s.

“For years this number has slowly been going down,” Walter König of the Bavarian Brewers’ Association explained to The Local.

But how can Germans be forsaking the brew that is their pride and joy?

“One reason is the higher amount of mobility that we have today,” König continued. “Before, people didn’t have to drive cars so much, they were closer to their work. We also have less work in agriculture or physical work. There’s more mental work.”

König explained that because people have to drive to work and also now have stricter office regulations against drinking while on lunch break, Germans are not sinking as many beers during the week.

Another reason is the public’s changed perspective on beer.

“In people’s minds, beer is not healthy. Consuming anything that seems unhealthy has decreased… There is more health awareness, though with a false understanding - beer in moderation is healthy.”

And König has a point - at the same time that consumption of beer decreased between 1991 and 2015, water consumption nearly doubled, from 79 litres per person to about 152 litres per person, according to the Food Ministry. Wine drinking has stayed about the same at 20.5 litres per person in 2015.

This awareness has also been reflected in bans on drinking in public, König said, like a recently enacted ban on nighttime drinking at Munich’s main train station.

But another aspect not reflected in the statistics is that more Germans are drinking alcohol-free beer - for similar reasons of health and concerns about drunk driving.

The nationwide German Brewers’ Association wrote in their annual report for 2016 that there are now about 400 different brands of alcohol-free beer - 50 more than the previous year. And every 20th litre of beer brewed in Germany is alcohol-free.

“More and more athletes are grabbing for alcohol-free beer,” the report states.

König said there had been a similar drop in beer consumption among Germans in the past, but for reasons very different and not so comparable to today. This happened after the Second World War when people didn’t have enough money to afford a recreational drink.

But once the economy picked up in what’s known as the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) in West Germany, people were drinking more again up to the 1970s.

“Drinking beer was a status symbol, and that’s not comparable to today. People can now afford it.”

Does beer have a future in Germany?

For König, it goes without saying that it does, but he doesn’t see demand significantly increasing in the future.

Part of this is because of demographic changes. Germany’s death rate has outstripped its birth rate for years, and even with immigration, experts have predicted a population decrease of as much as 10 million people by 2060.

König said that low birth rates and high death rates mean that once those born today are old enough to sip alcohol, there will already be fewer of them compared to previous years, and thus the amount of beer bought in the country will be lower.

On top of that, he said new immigrants to the country either do not drink - for example, if they are strict Muslims - or simply do not have the same beer-drinking culture as the Germans.

But one thing that will could German beer is exports to other countries - the German Brewers’ Association saw an increase of 4.2 percent in exports last year compared to 2015. When only looking at non-EU countries, exports climbed by 8.4 percent.

“Exports have long been a main pillar for medium- and large-sized breweries,” the brewers’ report stated.

König said this means new strategies for German brewers.

“We can compensate for what’s not being drunk inland with export increases and alcohol-free beer,” he said.

“The fact is Germans are drinking less beer, and therefore we have to be active in exports. Within Germany itself, it will be important to increase the interest from young adults with innovations, like craft beer. It’s not just important for beer to be cheap, but also to have innovative varieties.

“Water may become more popular and beer will become more of an indulgence like wine, but beer will remain the drink at the heart of Germany.”

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