The Death of German Brewing

The state of beer brewing in Germany, a country synonymous with beer culture (christ, hello, Oktoberfest), has become so dire the country has coined a word for it: brauereisterben (literally, “brewery death”).

The facts are stark: According to German federal statistics released in late January, 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 percent 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 adopts a dour tone on its student prospectus, saying the majority of graduates don’t actually become brew masters but instead head for jobs in mechanical engineering and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The major culprit is the 1516 law, Reinheitsgebot, which attempted 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.” It was later overturned in 1987, but many breweries still strictly adhere to it, especially in Bavaria.

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