BERLIN – Germany and beer go together like Porsches and the autobahn, but health-conscious residents are turning from the country's traditional beverage in favor of juices and bottled water, sending suds sales down to the lowest levels in 15 years.
According to a government report released Tuesday, the amount of beer sold in Germany fell to the lowest sales figure since 1993 — dropping by 2.7 percent in 2007 to 22 billion pints, down 612 million pints from 2006.
The Federal Statistics Office said the drop in beer sales came as the demand for beer mixed with fruit juices, soft drinks and other nonalcoholic beverages rose 18.1 percent from 2006 to 2007, with some 887 million pints consumed by thirsty buyers.
Beer consumption in Germany has been falling steadily for more than a decade, a trend that experts have attributed to an increasingly health-conscious public and an aging population that is less likely to binge.
For last year's decline, the German Brewers Association blamed a rainy summer, noting that foul weather dampens the mood for lifting a stein on a summer evening.
But the group also pointed to shifting tastes.
"Our regular customers are getting older and don't drink as much anymore, and generally Germans prefer milder tastes today, and are more health conscious," spokesman Marc-Oliver Huhnholz said.
For the country's remaining beer drinkers, there's more scary news: Their beloved beverage — often called 'liquid bread' because it is a basic ingredient of many Germans' daily diet — is getting more expensive.
Some breweries have already raised prices, and many others say they will follow later this year.
The director of the famous Hofbraeuhaus beer hall in Munich said the brewery would increase its prices by about 74 cents per case in April.
"This is not about profit, it's about cost increase," Michael Moeller said, adding that the raw materials for the national beverage — barley malt and hops — have been getting more expensive.
Moeller said that per case of beer, the price of malt had increased by 30 cents and hops by 7 cents, and that energy costs to brew beer had risen by 10 percent.
On top of all the bad news, the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg has said it is considering a ban on selling beer from midnight to 6 a.m.
It's no wonder the Germans lost the title of biggest per capita beer drinkers to the Czechs a few years ago.
But, Huhnholz said, they still drink more than the Irish, who closely follow Germans.