People from all over the globe may flock to the beer tents of Munich’s Oktoberfest, but Germans are losing their thirst for their national beverage. New figures show that domestic beer sales have sunk to their lowest level since reunification.
German breweries sold 94.6 million hectolitres last year, according to the federal statistics agency Destatis — 2 percent less than the year before, and the seventh consecutive drop in as many years. Sales of mixed drinks — beer with lemonade or cola — have declined by the same amount.
The popularity of beer has long been in decline. Germans drank the equivalent of half a liter a day in 1976, but only around a third of a liter in 2012.
Large breweries have blamed the disappointing results on the poor weather, as they have done for several years.
The head of the German brewers’ union, Holger Eichele, said that “one reason for the significant drop in sales was the long winter followed by the so-so summer.”
Some of the country’s largest breweries, including Bitburger, Krombacher and Veltins, last month were fined 106.5 million euros (US$143.6 million) for fixing the price of their beers.
However, there is no indication that the drop in sales is due to the cost of beer. On the contrary, some of Germany smaller breweries say that ever lower prices have damaged the standing of beer.
“Overall consumption of alcohol in Germany has been fairly stable,” said Eric Toft, head brewmaster at Bavaria’s Schonram brewery. “But people are choosing wine over beer because there’s a culture of appreciating a good grape. We should be able to get just as excited about good hops — German brewers are really missing a trick here.”
Some say Germans are simply becoming more health-conscious.
There are also signs that beer is becoming a more seasonal beverage that people consume on special occasions.
Jorn Kabisch, who writes a monthly beer column for Taz newspaper, said: “If you look closely at the figures, overall consumption may be in decline, but sales of strong beer, such as IPA or Bavarian Marzen pale lager, are up by 30 percent. Craft beers are getting really popular.”
Even teenagers have become more conscious in what they consume, Kabisch said.
“They may decide to get wasted on a Friday — in what is known here as ‘flatrate boozing’ [paying a fixed rate for unlimited drink] — but they’re more likely to remain sober in the week leading up to the big day,” he said.
In the league table of European beer drinkers, Germany lost second place a few years ago to Austria, whose inhabitants consumed 108.2 liters per head in 2011, compared with 107.2 liters in Germany.
The Czech Republic continues to reign as Europe’s beer champion, with 145 liters per head. Britain, surprisingly, is one of Europe’s more sober beer-drinking nations, with 73.7 liters per head.
German brewers have high hopes for the soccer World Cup in Brazil this summer.