Small German brewers fight to survive the pandemic with sheer creativity


By AGENCY

Stieren, brew meister at the Munich Brew Mafia, says that business is still good but the brewery only employs three people, making it easier to survive when sales plummeted during lockdown. Photos: dpa

Whether coming up with a specialty beer, baking bread, holding online tastings or crowdfunding, it's safe to say that German breweries have not seen the pandemic as a holiday.

Even as the tide of infections seems to be receding across Europe, the economic effect of cancelled festivals and closed restaurants is still being felt in the industry, especially the smaller breweries.

Many of the microbreweries that have remained afloat fought through the crisis with creativity – and aren't giving up the fight just yet.

The Munich Brew Mafia made a special pandemic brew that sold out within six hours, says managing director Stieren.The Munich Brew Mafia made a special pandemic brew that sold out within six hours, says managing director Stieren.One of them is the Schanzenbraeu brewery in the southern German city of Nuremberg. In normal times, there are festivals every weekend from May through September that sell the brewery's beers on draft, says managing director Stefan Stretz. They were all cancelled in 2020.

Like all breweries, Schanzenbraeu tried to focus away from kegs – which had accounted for 25-30% of beer sold – and more on selling bottled beer through retail outlets during the pandemic. But now, that market has become "cutthroat", says Stretz.

So he came up with the idea of the Zusammen Halbe, a beer developed and made by nine local breweries during the pandemic. Stretz and his colleagues filled 40, 000 bottles with the beer, which eventually sold out.

"The idea was to stand together in the crisis," explains Stretz.

While the special beer didn't make up for the loss in sales – which Stretz doesn't want to talk about – it did attract attention to the brewery, helping it stand out against the competition at the store.

Christoph Kumpf faced another common problem experienced by brewers during the pandemic.

"The ongoing lockdown for restaurants meant that we had large quantities of draft beer close to the sell-by date."

To avoid having to throw it away, says the managing director of the Kaiser Brauerei in the southwestern town of Geislingen, he made gin out of it, organised a beer drive-in in front of the brewery and sold it to bakers.

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Holzhauser brewery is one of many microbrewers in Germany forced to think creatively to survive the pandemic and precarious reopening.Holzhauser brewery is one of many microbrewers in Germany forced to think creatively to survive the pandemic and precarious reopening.

Now, six bakeries in the region make Bierretterbrot, which translates to "beer rescuer bread", and uses beer instead of water.

According to Kumpf, 1, 500l of draft beer have already been used to make more than 3, 000 loaves of bread – allowing the brewery to recover some of the costs in making the beer. It's an idea that several breweries in Germany successfully came to in the pandemic.

While Kumpf says that he's pleased with how successful the campaign was, he adds that it's impossible for the brewery to survive without sales from restaurants, bars or festivals.

"The state aid was a real support, no question, but the crisis has simply gone on for too long now."

In just trying to stay afloat, breweries will also find it harder going forward to invest in their future. In the Bavarian Forest, one brewery decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign in response.

As a result, €500, 000 (RM2.46mil) were raised in one week, says Markus Gruesser, the managing director of the Viechtach brewery. He took over the brewery at the end of 2018 and now wants to use the money to invest in new refrigeration and grow its social media presence.

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Stieren holding hops pellets used in the beer brewing process. The pellet form means they can be kept longer, though some brewers prefer to use whole lead hops.Stieren holding hops pellets used in the beer brewing process. The pellet form means they can be kept longer, though some brewers prefer to use whole lead hops.

Campaigns like those undertaken by the breweries in Nuremberg or Viechtach can alleviate some of the financial blows taken by individual businesses, says the German Brewers Association.

However, it's just that – individual cases.

More worrying is the survey results from the association, which found that one in four beer businesses sees its very existence at risk.

But some didn't see business totally plummet during lockdown.

The Stoertebecker brewery in northern Stralsund has come through quite well, with sales increasing in part thanks to online tastings, which the brewery has offered regularly since the first lockdown.

And for Munich Brew Mafia and the pandemic beer it came up with – called Impfstoff, or vaccine – business is humming along.

The three-man team had not expected the beer to sell so well and had bottled only 2, 000l the first time around. "It was sold out within six hours," according to managing director Dario Stieren.

Of course, being such a small company also helped the brewery react more flexibly to the pandemic – the three founders made it through the harder times by earning money through other jobs. – dpa

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