The average price of a bottle of beer in a supermarket in Germany is about 55 cents. The average price of a bottle of beer at Beyond Beer, a craft beer shop that opened this summer in Eimsbüttel, is about $2.50. Why would anyone want to pay that much more for craft beer, especially in a country where the standard domestic beer is considered excellent?
Well, if you visit Beyond Beer, you’ll get plenty of reasons. The staff is passionate about explaining craft beer and helping people overcome their skepticism toward it. “Considering that we’re living in Germany, it’s easy to say, ‘No, I don’t ever want to try another beer. I just want to drink the one I like,” said Ronald Siemsglüß, 35, one of the four owners of the shop. “But if you have that attitude, you’re definitely going to miss out.”
When one enters Beyond Beer, one quickly notices that the store sells a huge variety of beers and that many of them have fruity or citrusy flavors and different volumes of alcohol. Such variety is really what makes craft beer so special, said Siemsglüß. Because craft beers are usually made by smaller breweries, in smaller quantities, craft beer brewers are more inclined to take risks and use hops with fruity, floral, herbal, even spicy aromas. More traditional brewers in Germany usually just stick to hops with grassy aromas and wouldn’t dream of such experimentation.
“The experience of drinking craft beer is a lot like that of drinking wine, where you are always on the hunt for subtle flavors and aromas,” said Siemsglüß. Though the popularity of craft beer in the United States is well documented – the U.S. has thousands of craft breweries – craft beer has only really begun to become popular in Germany in the last five or six years. Many people think that the ever-increasing popularity of organic foods in Germany has aided sales of craft beer. More and more Germans want to know where the stuff they consume comes from, and craft breweries are usually local ventures that are very transparent about the ingredients they use and where those ingredients are sourced.
“With craft beer, you are really supporting something that is local and you can vet,” said Siemsglüß. Still, Siemsglüß knows that many people who visit the shop are going to have reservations, especially considering that some of the beers on the shelves are made by breweries with names like Cigar City, BrewDog and Brew by Numbers. So he and the shop’s other owners have striven to make the beer as accessible possible. Potential customers are often given samples of beer and the shop offers brewing classes for people curious about the brewing process.
And yet, some people still remain skeptical of craft beer. An oft-repeated concern is that maybe the quality is not as good as the quality of beer made by traditional brewers. But Siemsglüß scoffs at such a notion. “I actually meet personally with many of the brewers of the beer that we carry, and I ask them directly what ingredients they use and what their brewing process is like.” And just to drive home the point, Siemsglüß’s own brother is the creator and brewer of Buddelship, a craft beer that’s made in Stellingen and sold at Beyond Beer.
Still, not all craft breweries are quaint, small-scale operations. Some craft breweries are actually owned by much larger brewing companies. A significant number of craft breweries in the United States, for example, are owned by AB InBev, a massive multinational beverage and brewing company headquartered in Belgium. AB InBev, which also owns German brands, like Beck’s, has tried to capitalize on the increased interest in craft beer in Germany as well and has created new labels such as 1873 Pils, Pale Ale and Amber Lager, all referred to as “super-premium”-beer. But for all that, some beer experts say craft beer really does have attributes that make it special and that there are solid reasons why craft beer often costs more.
John Sheppard, a professor in the department of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences at North Carolina State University, said that, in the U.S. at least, craft beer has been known to have higher quality ingredients than “industrial” beer. And Daniel Hartis, an author of two books about beer and the digital manager of the U.S. publication All About Beer Magazine, said that a well-hoped Indian Pale Ale requires more hops than a pilsner. Hartis also said that craft breweries usually cannot brew anywhere near as much beer as the larger breweries can because craft breweries usually aren’t as automated. “So when you consider the labor and the ingredients, I think it only makes sense to assume these smaller breweries would have to charge higher prices,” Hartis said.
For now, Siemsglüß says, Beyond Beer’s immediate goals are just to acquire more customers and expose more people to craft beer. “What keeps us going is when we offer a sample to someone who has never had craft beer before and the person looks satisfied after taking a sip.”
More Eimsbüttel in English.