Can Oktoberfest cure German beer fatigue?

Germany is suffering from beer fatigue. Between January and June this year, consumption sank by 4.5 percent, and hundreds of German breweries may go out of business this year, warns the German Association of Breweries.

Even Munich, the capital of beer, is hurting.

“Beer brewed in Munich has so much variation; it appeals to every taste,” said Manfred Newrzella, executive director of the Munich Brewers’ Association. “But Germany is aging, and we also have to struggle with the ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants.

Some pubs have already had to close.”

Oktoberfest gives the brewers hope. With some 6 million visitors each year, the beer bonanza is firmly established as the world’s largest festival.

“Oktoberfest is a central event for Munich breweries,” said Christoph Bohning, spokesman for Paulaner Bier. “But for us, the quantities aren’t decisive. Oktoberfest is more like an image event, a festival that promotes the legends/cult/ heritage of Bavaria. And the fact that it gets such massive attention abroad is important for an export brand like Paulaner.”

Oktoberfest 2010 will feature an anniversary brew, horse races and the usual dirndl-clad waitresses. “Thirty years ago, breweries would just put up a tent and serve beer,” said Bohning. “It was very rustic. Today, Oktoberfest is a marketing opportunity.”

After Oktoberfest, Bavarian breweries will return to the drawing board, trying to find beer concoctions that appeal to a wider audience. One concept currently being tried out: a beer-based, nonalcoholic sports drink.

Beer remains a beloved beverage in Germany. The country remains third among the world’s top beer-drinking countries, beaten only by the Czech Republic and Ireland.


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