The worlds largest funfair, Oktoberfest, runs annually in a meadow near the centre of Munich, Germany. While this celebration has continued since 1810 times are changing.
A recent article from the Bloomburg
financial news outlet highlighted the decline of beer volume for Oktoberfest. This year 6.4 million litres of beer was served down from 7.7 million litres last year with relatively the same attendance.
Also notable, the article mentions the changing attitude of Germans to beer flavour and styles.
Traditional Oktoberfest beers must come from one of local six breweries, all brewing a similar style of beer, which must be brewed with the Munich city limits.
To be an Oktoberfest beer these breweries must also adhere to the Reinheitsgebot
, the German Beer Purity Law, of 1516.
The Reinheitsgebot states that only Water, Barley (Malt) and Hops can be used in the production of beer. Yeast were originally omitted as back in 1516 the brewers microscopic friends were not yet known.
The major reasons for its introduction was to maintain a health standard for beer in 1500’s Bavaria. Interestingly the Reinheitsgebot is the worlds oldest, continuous food standard.
The other major reason was to ensure there was enough Wheat and Rye available for bakers to produce bread. Ensuring bakers had raw materials kept the price of bread affordable for the German public.
While this is no longer part of German Law it’s history looms large. Ironically what was once a mark of esteemed purity has become an anchor to the past leaving little chance for innovation.
In contrast international brewers, unbound by this convention, have used rice, corn and even pumpkin as the base for beer. Additions of common and exotic ingredients (Kopi Lewak – ‘Monkey Poo’ coffee anyone?) have created some of the most sought after beers on the planet.
So what does it all mean?
With international beer volume in decline the customer focus is shifting to drinking less but consuming better quality products. No surprises here for a craft beer drinker.
In the Bloomburg article German brewery owner Oliver Lemke comments that “We Germans thought we were making the worlds best beer meanwhile diversity suffered”. Furthermore he says “Craft brewing is an interesting and lucrative niche and it was a mistake not to do it earlier”
Closer to home, the latest Brew Pub release from Swan Valley brewery Feral, ‘Hopfen Pahrt’, is a German IPA. This uses three new German hop varieties to create a very tasty craft beer than could appeal to Bavarians looking beyond what is familiar.
While things haven’t changed dramatically at Oktoberfest it is clear consumers are more savvy than ever before. Oktoberfest is still a fantastic opportunity celebrate with friends, eat too much, drink too much and make pithy comments like ‘Sausage jokes are the wurst’.
That alone is worth raising a glass for.