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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

New Brewery Numbers Do Not Tell the Whole Story

Ron Pattinson has a nice post today that looks at the growth in European breweries by country in the five years between 2009-2014. What jumped out to him was the tiny growth (2%) in the number of breweries in Germany. He ran, Pattinson-style, a table with raw numbers. Allow me to render that statistic visually (click to enlarge):

It's true that the growth of 2% lags the rest of Europe. But percentages can sometimes be a little deceiving. The 21 breweries Germany added weren't that far behind the 24 Ireland added--but that was good enough for 92% growth on the Emerald Isle.* So what if we instead look at total breweries? How does Germany fare then? Quite a lot better, as you'd expect.

That brings me to my final visualization--and probably the most illuminating. We often look at brewery counts as a valuable metric for ... something. (I do it too, and I don't know why it's so compelling). But what if we look at the actual amount of beer a country produces rather than the number of breweries? Does that shed light on matters? It does.

(There is one final number crunch I could have shown, but it's not dramatic; it compares the production to population, but the differences weren't large. Italy was a bit of an outlier on the low side and the Czech Republic on the high side, but most were within close range of each other.)

The moral of the story is this: new brewery numbers are not a good measure of the entire health of a local beer market. You have to look at the total number of breweries and total production of those breweries. No single number tells a complete enough story on its own--you really need to look at all of them together. All countries went through massive consolidation in the 20th century, but Germany less so. It stands to reason that Germany would be repopulating its breweries more slowly now. (Which is not to say that Ron's initial observation isn't interesting--it is. And many would love to see more rapid growth of young, adventuresome breweries in Germany.)

*As commenters on Ron's post noted, those numbers are probably not quite accurate. It turns out counting breweries is a real challenge for existential and semantic reasons. More on that in due course.


  1. By "adventuresome" you mean "geared to dilettante American palates," I assume.

  2. No, I don't. I have only spoken to about a dozen of the few thousand brewers in Germany, but nearly every one (all?) regretted that the country's culture was so hidebound that they couldn't even experiment within their own traditional styles. Even using unexpected hops counts as apostasy.

    Beyond that, there are brewers like Matthias Trum at Schlenkerla and Hans-Peter Drexler at Schneider who would like to experiment even more, but have had to proceed very cautiously, generally citing historical precedent for any new beer they wish to introduce.

    Tradition is great. But it can also cripple an already-stagnant market.

  3. The German beer market is probably at the same point the French wine market was at 30 years ago: crippled by a believe that they were the best, that the way they had always done things was the best way, and that the New World had nothing at all to offer and they had nothing to fear from it.

    We all know what happened next …