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THE JOURNAL

14th Jul 2017 | Views

Why isn't German beer innovative?

Which is the most innovative beer country? Belgium? The US? Britain? Maybe even Sweden? In a new series Patrick Gengler looks at what drives innovation in beer... and it may not be what you think

Pick out your top three beer countries in the world. Belgium right? Germany? Of course. And what about Britain, with its wildly diverse styles? We'd probably agree. But are they innovative? In most cases, I'd argue not.

Sure, you may be shaking your head at me, or firing expletives at me in Flemish, but bear with me.

I’m not saying that Belgium and Germany don’t make great beers because they do. They make some of the best beers in the world, they just haven’t made anything innovative or new for a bit.

Part 1: Germany
Germany: The real ‘craft’ beer pioneers, hosts of the world’s largest beer festival, and nearly a millennia of established brewing culture. Why would I say the real ‘craft’ beer pioneers? The answer is simple. Reinheitsgebot. No, I’m not swearing at you in German, this is the ‘beer purity law’, and it prevented the country’s proud brewing culture from becoming a watered down corn syrup with added slop. The rules are pretty simple, you’re only allowed to use four ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast (yeast was only added when we found out what it actually did). Pretty general, not too hard to follow, and it has kept the beer to a high standard since. Surprisingly, the rules, while not law, are still very largely adhered to. And I think that means they aren’t as innovative with their beers. They can brew some crazy coffee-infused IPA, but many drinkers want their beer brewed to the Reinheitsgebot. When you break craft down, it’s more of an intangible culture or set of ideals than hard rules, so the fact that German many German drinkers want their pure (and excellent) beer, it doesn’t exactly push innovation.

When we think German beer, most of us think two things: lager and wheat beer. For good reason, the vast majority of beer in Germany is a variation of one of these two styles. There are actually a fair number of variations of these beers like Rauchbier (smoked beers), Gose (salty and sour) along with a myriad of lagers from crystal to dark brown. They really do brew a lot of different beers and I have great respect for their brewing styles but they haven’t changed it up for a very long time. I want to see a German double decoction-brewed imperial brown beer with molasses and maple syrup, and I’m not sure how likely that is.

When I look at the beer industry in Germany, I have a very different perspective to the people in Germany. I look at the beer there through the eyes of someone who grew up in the heart of the craft beer revolution in America. If you could think it, you could drink it. That has never been nor do I foresee it being the case in Germany because they already have an amazing beer culture that goes back nearly a thousand years.

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