Friday, January 17, 2014

Shirking My Responsibility

I freely admitting to trolling the internet and news outlets for beery stories and then rifling them back at you with my own witty and/or snarky twist. Yeah, I know it's a bit of a cop-out, rehashing someone else's beey material, and all, but I haven't received your subscription check yet, so watcha' gonna do?

Most of the time it's because a certain article—or rather the article's topic—has caught my eye. Rarely is it because the writer has crafted a well written piece of news or information. Every once in a while though, that happens.

A case in point is Michael Filtz article on German beer's "Exsistential Crisis"—as he puts it—from The New Yorker's website. The article is chock full of stats and numbers, but also little tidbits like this:
It’s not that Germans aren’t drinking anymore. From my own admittedly unscientific research—which includes losing count of the number of people I’ve observed drinking lagers on the train during my morning commute in Berlin—Germans still consume a lot of beer.
It's worth the read, so I'm passing it along—without my own reinterpretation muddying the water.

You'll thank me for that later.


  1. That's a very interesting article. I think Germany finally encountered the same phenomena of other Western countries: flat or declining beer markets. In turn these are caused by the growing popularity of wine and other drinks, steady decrease in manual occupations, declining birth rate, alternate choices for leisure time, and increased interest in fitness.

    I am not sure what the answer is, the craft area may be one avenue, placing more emphasis on exports another, perhaps too some brewers need to refocus on quality. When you read the books written by travellers who extol the quality of beers found today only in deep recesses of the country, e.g. Franconia, it makes me wonder whether all German production was like that at one time. I don't find most of the big names, at least as we get them in North America, all that special and perhaps they were much better 30 and 50 years ago. Quality is only one factor though, and a multiform strategy may be needed to ensure that the industry survives on a healthy footing. I do believe the craft revolution as we've experienced it can work for some of the brewers there. The industry remained conservative for a long time but events have show the market is not unusually resistant to the same kind of changes that affected brewers elsewhere.


  2. I think the Reinheitsgebot is both a blessing and a curse.

  3. Agreed. In my view, it is time to free up the rules completely for brewing. The Pure Beer Law did its good work - the idea that all-malt spells high quality is ingrained in world beer culture - but allowing use of a broader range of ingredients across the board of styles can hep revive the scene there. Also, it is consistent with earlier German brewing history.


    1. The problem now is the innate German conservatism plus the huge marketing weight behind the Reinheitsgebot from most of the bigger and more traditional breweries. For them it's a way to close out competition - foreigners don't have a R'bot, so their beer must be full of nasty additives, right?

      As the New Yorker writer says (and as I wrote about quite a bit while living there), there *is* a nascent German craft beer movement, and even quite large brewers have experimented with single-hop or specialist-hop beers, eg. Becks Saphir and extra-hopped weizens from Schneider and Weihenstephaner.

      It is quite amazing though how quickly and deeply generic Pils and the Einheitsgebot (a little German joke there...) have embedded themselves in the culture - they may witter on about 1516, but the R'bot only became *national* law in 1906, and even then was suspended in all or part of the country for much of the 20th century (WW1, WW2, the DDR...). Pils likewise.

      Then again, embedding Lite Lager in the US psyche post-prohibition only took, what, 50-odd years? And craft beer ran at just a few % of the market for years, so there's still hope for Germany too. (-:

    2. Realistically, the R'bot was originally about 1) control, and 2) taxation above purity.

    3. On that subject, there's an rather interesting - albeit hard to read, even by academic standards - paper on this written by two US-based economists, and published in the Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy.

      Their conclusion appears to be that the R'bot was all about restoring monopolies: "It reflected unproductive entrepreneurial regulation efforts to recreate rents for city-based guild brewers and government in Bavaria after productive entrepreneurial
      activity by countryside producers innovated hops brewing, eroding the existing regulation policy’s power to generate rents for them. The Purity Law harmed consumers rather than protecting them. And when contemporary German brewers use
      the 1516 law to advertise their product they are unwittingly advertising political plunder rather than the purity of their beer."

      That says it all, really.

  4. I am going to read this article, thanks BryanB for posting it, but before I do, I want to say from personal drinking experience that all-malt beer is high quality and has a uniquely satisfying taste. Yes, all-malt is not enough: you need good malt and a decent amount of hops. Plus, a yeast that is not too weird or wonky. Thus, while Heineken (all-malt) is far from my favourite beer, it is and always will be better than any adjunct lager. Often I found an English ale not too my taste, only later to find out it has some wheat in it. (A little sugar is okay). There was a gustatory logic to the rule IMO and while - I will read the article - there may have been other justifications for it, all-malt beer, the basis of great British beer (its foundation) until the later 1800's and the bedrock of the craft beer revolution, has proved its worth - to me and many others. I will say too that Michael Jackson, while frustrated at the conservatism the rule inspired, never doubted its contribution to beer quality.