The German Beverage Revolution: New Trends in Liquid Refreshment
Though not quite as overwhelming as the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet block 28 years ago, the massive change in Germany's centuries' old eating and drinking habits parallels the emergence of a much lighter, healthier cuisine. And, is equally revolutionary.
Germany's once fundamental meat-and potatoes diet, and traditional Bierkultur, among many of its other national trademarks celebrated over many centuries, has dissipated. In truth, other nations drink more beer per capita than the Germans, even as wine consumption in France has fallen markedly.
What has emerged with the merger of East and West Germany is radical. A highly diverse New Age of liquid refreshment has dawned. It reflects a lighter, more-health-driven diet with far more reliance on waters, better wines, soft drinks (known as "limonade"), spirits, innumerable cocktails, (both alcoholic and alcohol-free,) juices –both pure or with various supplements such as flavorings, vitamins, and minerals – and so-called "power" or "energy drinks."
The historic reliance on Gerstensaft, fermented barley juice – beer – began to shrink more than 40 years ago as greater alcohol awareness, calorie-consciousness and stricter laws began encroaching on the ‘round-the clock, beer-throughout-the-year lifestyle that dominated daily life in both Germanys. The two half-liter bottles sipped throughout the day at the office, the case or two of brew delivered daily at construction sites, in fields and factories slowly evaporated.
(Onsite accidents, risk management issues, and fuzzy, unfocused thinking in offices contributed to the switch-over as more and more clear-glass, plastic and tetrapak cases of still and sparkling waters, colas and citrus-flavored drinks replaced beer.
Over the years, most successful breweries determined to offset the shrinking beer consumption added on their own brands of waters and limos produced from the same water sources that were used for their brews. For that matter, too, the number of breweries dropped precipitously from essentially one in every Postleitzahl or ZIP Code in the West as consolidations, friendly and hostile mergers, compressed the numbers of highly unique, small individual brands, compacting them into massive, global marketing conglomerates such as InBev. A degree of homogenization set in.
With roughly 4,100 breweries remaining in united Germany today, compared to more than 8,000 in West Germany 50 years ago, individuality rapidly disappeared.
One huge change, however, enabling the breweries to stay alive is the Craft Beer Movement. Small batch, highly-crafted beers which may or may not qualify as "Bier" under the provisions of the German and Bavarian Purity Laws governing ingredients. Following the burgeoning development in the United States, this has resulted in beers that vary markedly based on the number and styles of hops, malts, and yeasts used. Alcohol levels of traditional German beers top out at 8.2% in a Doppelbock. But, following Belgian Trappist traditions, Craft beers can easily double and exceed those limits. And, taking the lead from the Americans, flavorings, spices, herbals, fruit and vegetables may likewise be added. This is an absolute no-no under the German beer laws. Hence, those Crafts are known as "beer-based beverages" and may not be called "beer."
This development is so vibrant that even Germany's annual ProWein trade show for Wines and Spirits in Düsseldorf now has a craft beer division!
Enter the New Age of Plastic and Metal
Although long-eschewed, light-weight, easy-chill metal and plastic containers now permit consumers to easily carry their portable potables about so that virtually anyone old enough and able to walk transports his or her beverage along throughout the day. This encompasses limos, waters, juices, wine-beer-spirit-based "coolers," energy drinks and coffee and tea-based drinks. Of course, there are countless individual glass bottles and increasingly more metal cans of beer consumed en route from dawn to dusk and beyond for those thirsty souls on the go.
Naturally, international beverage giants like Coca-Cola, and Schweppes, are in the forefront as well as local German producers of Fanta, Sinalco and AfriCola, reviving almost moribund market shares. They dominate the scene while high-sugar, high caffeine energy drinks like Red Bull have soared to prominence among teens and young adults. American competitors like RC Cola and Dr Pepper/PepsiCo have re-launched efforts to get their share of the market here.
As if the market was not already super-saturated, countless newcomers debut every year. Stunning, radical graphics, and shrill marketing programs herald each appearance. Shelves are teeming with endless choices. So, what else is new?
A voice from yester-year returns to the market
One interesting development is the appearance of a cola-style, power beverage called "Volt". It is a throwback to the Coca-Cola that dominated the US market from WWII up into the early 1960's. Volt, like the Coke of yesteryear, is made from sugar, not corn syrup. Its caffeine is extracted from coffee beans, not synthesized. It is bracingly, slightly bitter, not cloying. It mixes well with dark spirits like rye, bourbon, blended whiskeys, rum and brandy. Sold in 0,33 liter cans, Volt provides a jolt much as its late predecessor Jolt, which enjoyed popularity in America in the ‘80's and ‘90's before being overwhelmed by Red Bull, Mountain Dew and other top-marketed products.
Volt is taking a unique stance. It portrays itself neither as a thirst-quencher nor an energy drink nor a mixer although it is all three. It is making its appearance in national supermarket chains Germany-wide. Volt is available in 0,33 liter easy-chill cans at intermediate and upscale supermarkets like REWE, EDEKA, HIT and KARSTADT stores in both the original flavor and an orange-based version. However, Volt at this time is not in the popular, low-end grocers like LIDL, ALDI, NETTO, PENNY and NORMA where so many power-energy drinks are available.
Can Volt go it alone? Can Volt beat the odds and become a national brand capable of standing on its own two feet recalling an Ur-Coke in the once ubiquitous, 6-ounce, Raymond Loewy-designed green glass bottle that dominated America in its days of glory following WWII?
All we can say is wait and see. The market is volatile, explosive; Volt might just indeed "make it". Its exclusive nature may just be the secret ingredient that makes it popular!
Article contributed by Tom Lipton. He has been professionally immersed in wine, beer, spirits and other beverages for more than 25 years.
Serving Suggestions: either in a short or tall glass – as a Low Ball or Highball
As a Non-Alcoholic Beverage
Straight or on the rocks - with a slice of fresh Lemon, Lime or Navel Orange, and/or a fresh Mint sprig
Or, add a dash of Angostura, Orange or other Bitters, or a bit of fresh Ginger.
Flavorings also work - such as pure Cherry Essence or Vanilla Bean
As a Cocktail:
Volt tastes best with any Dark Spirit - Rum light or dark, Bourbon, Canadian or Rye Whiskey... not Scotch
Flavorings such as pure Cherry Essence or Vanilla Bean
Perfect Serving 0,33 ltr - because a little Volt goes a l-o-n-g way!.