How is the current beer market in Germany?
The German beer market is in decline, that's the truth. Twenty five years ago, the average annual beer consumption per person was 140 litres, currently it is around 100 litres.
Although 100 litres per person is still a lot and Germany is still in the top five beer drinking nations, the Czech Republic is drinking more.
The German beer market is changing slightly. Mainly, it is controlled by the main brands that we've been drinking for “hundreds of years”: Pils, Hell, Wheat beer. But, during recent years, more locally-brewed, organic, special, craft beers are gaining market share. We have a lot of breweries in Germany – nearly 1,400 – but 900 to 1,000 of them are small breweries.
The biggest brewery in Germany is Radeberger group, producing around 12 or 13 million hectolitres. That is less than the world's biggest brewers, which produce 20, 30 or 40 times that amount.
What do you think caused the decline in Germany’s brewing market?
Perhaps 140 litres per head was too much! One factor is that over the past 20 or 30 years, wine has got more popular. Wine has gained market share and beer has dropped.
Another is that people would like to live longer and be healthier. It's hard to say. Maybe beer is seen as quite old-fashioned. I'm a beer drinker and brewer, but my children are drinking different beverages and definitely less beer. It's a different trend and different time. I started drinking beer at 16 or 17 in the seventies.
In Germany, a lot of breweries are expanding their portfolio to more experimental beers, making beer more “modern” to get the market share back. It's like this in all bigger cities around the world, there is a new scene and they are drinking more experimental drinks.
Big breweries were based in areas that had lots of industry and this has changed. For example, the mining industry has gone, and breweries that would have served the workforce now don’t have those customers.
What drinks are most popular?
The most popular is coffee, followed by mineral water! On average, people drink more than 140 litres of mineral water per person per year. That's been growing over the past 50 years.
Is domestic beer more popular than imports?
To answer your question, yes, in Germany, with our long brewing tradition and wide brewery scene, domestic beer is still more popular then imports.
More than 50%-60% of all beers in Germany are German lager, Pils and Helles. My impression is, especially in the cities where young people are living, the special beers are more popular. They want to try something new.
Is craft beer consumption growing?
I think so, but it's not the same as in somewhere like Italy, where nearly 1,000 new small breweries were founded over the past ten years because they haven't had so many breweries before. In the States, 3,500 craft breweries have been founded in the past 20-something years because, in the past, it was just the big breweries and the rest was more or less nothing.
There is, of course, a lot of noise from new founded craft breweries, but volume in Germany is still quite small, but growing.
We still are a beer-drinking land. We have a lot of breweries and these breweries are starting now to produce craft beer, whatever the definition of that is. Often it is just “back to the roots”, means e.g. beer in Germany 50 years ago, was still much more hoppy.
My idea is that real craft beer is brewed by hand, but that is of course not possible when you have to make it commercially successful. But if breweries producing millions of hectolitres per year call themselves craft breweries, that is another question.
In my small village we have been brewing since 1998, “real craft beer” in a “hobby-brewing club” in 100-litre vessels, with fire underneath.
What do Germans want most from their beer?
I can't speak for everyone, but in my environment, beer is a daily drink. If you have 100 litres per head, take away the children, some women and the very old - every man has to drink 200 litres per year, and that means more than half a litre per day. So it's a daily drink.
In Bavaria, where I live, we call it 'food', a kind of liquid food. Most of the Germans I know stick with the beer styles they're used to - Pils, Helles, Wheat beer, etc.
The younger generation are more complicated. When we talk about tastes and expectations, they're trying more things.
I have problems when I try to make special beers in my village. Some try it, others not. I live in the countryside, so maybe it's different in Berlin, Hamburg or Munich - they may have a different impression.
Please tell us about your brewing set-up
It's a bit of a special story because we have a pilgrim's church in our village. It's really small, just 100 people living here. So it's more or less a church and some houses.
In Germany we have a lot of monastery breweries that are brewing bottom-fermented dark lager. That's the main lager we're brewing and people like it. It's not for selling, we brew for fun and to drink it. There's a party in the village twice a year, but that's the only time we sell. It's not a commercial brewery, just a club, but really crafted because we're mixing the wort by hand.
You mentioned some craft beer approaches being nothing new. Is there anything out there that is covering new ground?
The trend is using a lot more different hops - fruitier, more bitter, more taste in this or that direction. You have so many different possibilities to do that. Mixeries now mix everything into beer (fruit juice etc.) - there is no boundary.
I have even heard of cucumber beer. I have no idea if it's drinkable or not. Chili beer and pepper beer I've had - very hot. Also, people mix beer and wine - very exotic.
Some new brewers don't know what they're doing (sorry for saying that, but I have tasted some very special beers over the past years). They probably look at the internet, see millions of recipes and then start making beer. They maybe have a marketing idea, but no idea on how to make good beer.
How do you think the German beer market will change in the coming years?
If I knew, I would immediately found a company and follow the trend. I hope in the next 20 years I'm still alive and able to drink beer.
I think the volume will fall further, between 80 and 100 litres per head. The main types of beer (Pils, for example) will lose market share but not disappear. Maybe in 10 years they'll have less than 50% market share.
Beers with lower alcohol content, but still taste like beer, could have a chance in the future. There may be a trend towards using local products more and more. Going away from the big, worldwide brewers.