Beer is on trend and traditional – status quo vadis?
By Peter Eichhorn
Corona used to be nothing more than a Mexican beer brand and a type of cigar. Today things are very different – particularly for the beer scene. The 2020 beer year may well have driven more than a few seasoned brewers to desperation. Expectations had been high, as the sunny beer garden season should have been supplemented by the excitement of the European Football Championships and beer festivals too numerous to count throughout the country. Yet football, a proven driver of beer consumption, was cancelled and the coronavirus lockdown made it impossible to serve beer for what seemed an eternity. Beer that had been brewed to be served fresh became spoilt and had to be disposed of. According to the German Federal Statistics Office, beer sales over the first six months of 2020 amounted to just 43 million hectolitres, a decline of 3.025 million hectolitres compared to the same period the previous year.
Even so, the beer world refuses to give in – beer has been donated to crisis helpers and good causes, and brewers helped one another with fresh beer and special sales. New beers have been launched, and brewery projects continue to move forward in spite of the crisis. Our BCB-City Berlin stands out for its development into a beacon of modern beer culture, while brands such as Lemke, Schoppe, Berliner Berg, Vagabund, Schneeeule, Brewdog and Brlo are delivering innovations and making headlines in Germany’s capital.
For owners and operators of restaurants, hotels and bars, beer continues to offer a potential USP and the chance to provide patrons with a welcome surprise. Let us take a brief look back: it took quite some time for the craft beer trend to make it to Germany. It was not until about ten years ago that these crafted brews began their first tentative foray into German glasses, generating looks of surprise and delight in drinkers here. In the USA, where the craft beer movement originated, the first brewers began creating their pioneering brews in the late 1970s. It was the dawn of a new era in beer history, as this is when President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, a bill that eliminated the ban on home brewing that had its roots in Prohibition. Today there are approx. 3,000 breweries propagating the full spectrum of beer variety in the USA. Old and new yeasts, barrel maturing, dry hopping and a never-ending stream of new hop experiments and strains inspire brewers’ imaginations and delight the palates of beer connoisseurs.
Fritz Wülfing, a Bonn-based brewer and pioneer of the German craft beer movement, brews tasty beers under his ‘Ale-Mania’ brand. In his book, entitled ‘Craft Beer selber brauen. Revolution der Heimbrauer’ [Home-brewing revolution: brewing your own craft beer], Wülfing offered the following definition of craft beer: “Craft beers are brews that taste new and different, and which are created by independent free-spirits. Although the craft beer culture has spread from the USA around the globe, it appears that the renewal of the German beer landscape will be a difficult undertaking. Yet this renewal is urgently needed, because German beer drinkers are bored by the conventional and uniform taste on offer here – falling sales figures speak volumes.”
Even the biggest German brewers are turning their attention to the perennial issue of beer variety. Some are establishing their own craft beer brands, while others are entering into collaborations with craft brewers. A method that is currently proving to be particularly successful is the adoption of regional stories for beers that draw on old traditions in an effort to win consumers’ approval with naturally cloudy ‘Zwickelbier’ and ‘Kellerbier’ variants in historical designs.
Regardless of whether restaurant and bar owners want to support small local brewery projects or instead prefer entering into partnerships with larger brewery firms, there are opportunities for growth with beer, and numerous patrons love being surprised here. Many have only known beer as a thirst-quencher that could be generically ordered: “I’ll have a beer, please!” The task is to do away with this view of beer as a generic product, an attitude that would never be accepted by fans of wine or whiskey. The ability to use beers as attractive companions to a meal should be equally fascinating to sommeliers and patrons alike. A coffee stout, for example, might go just as well with a game dish as it does with a chocolatey dessert. Or a Citra-hopped ale as an accompaniment to steamed fish? Magnificent! The same thing applies to beers in combination with selected spirits. A rye beer with a rye whiskey makes perfect sense. And some on-trend gins are excellent companions to a Belgian ‘saison’ or ‘tripel’ beer. Furthermore, ageing selected speciality brews in whiskey or rum barrels offers another way in which to create tasty new pairings. It is practically a new type of ‘Herrengedeck’, a picturesque German term for a pairing of beer and spirits. As is traditional, this year's BCB Pouring Digital will once again be turning its attention to craft beers. With two tastings that run the gamut from traditional to insane and a panel discussion featuring expert and entertaining beer specialists, we invite everyone to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of beer in a way they never have before. Be it sour, bitter or hoppy, compliant with the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ beer purity law or defiantly different: join in the tasting and join in the discussion. As Benjamin Franklin was once rumoured to have said: “Beer is the best proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!”