Thursday was Father’s Day in Germany, and the time-honored tradition of an all-day beer drinking binge was kept in good form. According to the Washington Post, German men traditionally meet up in large groups that are equipped with at least one carefully decorated carriage filled with beer. They then descend on a day-long hike with their very own beer vehicles, but few make it to the end.
All revelry aside, statistically Father’s Day is the most dangerous day to be on German streets. According to government figures, alcohol-related traffic accidents then are typically three times higher than normal, since most adult male Germans will get drunk. (The legal drinking age is 16 in Germany, and drinking on the street or in public is legally allowed in many cities.)
However, the Father’s Day binge is a one-day annual exception to the trend, which is of declining beer consumption in Germany. Younger Germans are increasingly turning away from the country’s most famous beverage, leading the country’s per-capita beer consumption to fall from 37 gallons a year in 1991 to 25 gallons in 2015. (Although, this is still a high quantity; by comparison, U.S. annual beer consumption is just under 20 gallons per person.) And according to research firm Euromonitor International, German “beer consumption is expected to decline steadily” over the next five years.
“Germans are drinking a lot less beer nowadays in pursuit of modern trends like wellness, sports, and living healthy,” said Friedel A. Drautzburg, the owner-operator of one of Berlin’s most popular pubs, the Staendige Vertretung. He added, “On top of that, it’s become a real social turn-off to be buzzed, or a little drunk and/or very drunk. Thirty or forty years ago, it was socially acceptable to get blitzed. Not anymore.”
(Nor are Germans replacing beer with other forms of alcohol; Germany’s wine consumption is expected to increase by just 1% over the next four years, with many consumers choosing quality over quantity.)
Falling beer consumption in Germany has led to a price war in some regions, with prices tumbling to less than 50 cents for a pint bottle — about half the price of bottled water in some shops, noted the Washington Post. However, this is not to say that beer is doomed in Germany. Despite declining domestic sales, the country still produced about 2.6 billion gallons of beer — of which more than 350 million gallons, valued at over $1 billion, were exported, mainly to Italy, France, the Netherlands, China and the U.S.
Germany’s famous beer purity law – which bans any ingredients except water, hops, malt and yeast — turned 500 years old last month. Polls say around 85% of Germans still have faith in that law, although many younger Germans are frustrated by how it stifles beer innovation compared to foreign breweries.
Robin Weber, CEO of a new brewery, Berliner Berg, said he and his colleagues used to work overseas and were impressed by the variety of flavors available in places like the U.S. and Australia. “Coming back, working in Germany, all of us were really disappointed by what the German beer market had to offer in regards of variety, diversity, and quality,” he lamented.
Aiming to cash in on alternatives to traditional beer, German brewers are developing mixed beer drinks and alcohol-free beers, which are experiencing steady sales increases even as overall beer consumption shrinks each year. Likewise, some creative microbreweries that have come under fire for violating the beer purity law — by adding fruits, spices, and other ingredients — have skirted the regulation by instead calling their beverages “malty drinks.”
Beer will always be a part of German culture, but growing health consciousness will limit excessive consumption and drunkenness. Except on Father’s Day and during Oktoberfest, of course.