Germans are guzzling so much beer this summer that brewers are running out of bottles

Glug, glug, glug.
Glug, glug, glug.
Image: REUTERS/Michaela Rehle
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Put Germany’s legendary love of beer together with a summer that’s shaping up to be the country’s hottest since 1881, and what do you get? A bottle shortage that’s sent brewers scrambling.

The country’s laudably eco-friendly deposit system is at the heart of the problem. Most glass and plastic bottles, whether water, beer, or juice, have a few euro cents extra added to the cost. People get the money back when they return their empties. Considering people often buy beer by the crate, returning the empties to collect the deposit, or “Pfand,” means either a nice handful of change back, or money to put towards the next crate.

“This is an industry-wide drama,” Niklas Other, publisher of drinks industry magazine Inside, said in July. Now some brewers are appealing for Germans to please return their empty beer bottles—and not to go off on vacation and forget—so they can keep up with the demand for the cooling amber nectar.

“Great weather plus great beer equals a lot of thirst,” brewer Moritz Fiege wrote on its Facebook page, urging people to bring back their deposit bottles

Despite the bottle panic, the sweltering temperatures, which roared to a sweltering 39.2C (102.5F) on Tuesday, are helping the German beer industry out of a trough. After a bad 2017, with a wet summer, the industry has grown just 0.6% in the first half of 2018. The national soccer team’s surprising early exit from the FIFA World Cup was a shocker for beer sellers banking on weeks of supporters celebrating.

According to the German Brewers Association (link in German), there are more than 6,000 different brands of beer available in the country—only the Czechs drink more beer in the EU. Multi-use glass bottles dominate the packaging, making up about 80% of the market

With crops failing across the country due to the drought, the next worry is that there may not be enough grain to make the beer to fill the bottles. The German farmers association DBV said on Wednesday (Aug. 1) that the grain harvest will be 20% smaller this year.