Germany's statistical data office has consistently reported a decline in the country's per capita beer consumption. To halt this, a private brewery has developed a winter beer to give drinkers a new taste incentive.
Breweries are trying to break the mulled wine monopoly
The German statistical data office offered a few mitigating factors when it reported that this year's beer consumption had declined once again - prices had risen, it had been a rainy summer, the smoking ban came into force. But whatever the reasons, breweries are being pushed to innovate to keep Germans drinking.
Along with the traditional mulled wine, Christmas beer has been a regular feature of Germany's 2,500 Christmas markets for several few years. It is generally a dark beer with some extra spices. It normally contains more alcohol than regular beer, perhaps to keep the Christmas holiday as festive as possible.
German beer consumption appears to be caught in a downward spiral
Udo Schoenweiss from the Iserlohn Private Brewery explained the exact science of producing the specialist beer: "In the winter we add a few special kinds of malt, including caramelized and roasted malt," he told Deutsche Welle, "There's a lot to work out: what kind of head it will have, how the color develops. We have to do this beforehand."
The brewery regards its Iserlohner Winter Beer as a success. Company manager Christian Rolinck says that people standing around in the cold at Christmas markets prefer dark beer. But he admits that in the beer market is struggling in general.
"I'm afraid it's true that the per capita consumption has gone down in the past few years," Rolinck told DW. "It's now at 111 liters (29.3 gallons) a year, and it used to be 145 liters (38.3 gallons)."
"Compared to the rest of the world, we're still doing pretty well. But it's really important that we keep offering new tastes - just to stimulate consumption by getting people to try something new."
Not just for Christmas
Rolinck said the brewery resisted the temptation to market its Winter Beer as a Christmas beer so it could stretch sales throughout the period between early November and February.
"We're consciously aiming for a seasonal market - we don't want to make it a one-off," he says. "We want to use the winter months to generate more volume."
But the Iserlohn brewery is supplementing its regular product range with another innovation created specifically for the traditional outdoor Christmas market: mulled beer.
The so-called "Glühbier" is a warm fruity mixture of Iserlohner Winter Beer, cherry juice, and some special yuletide ingredients including cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, sugar, orange compound and concentrate.
Whether this potent concoction will return to markets for Christmas 2010 remains to be seen.
Author: Monika Lohmueller (Ben Knight)
Editor: Sam Edmonds