Can Germany’s small breweries survive the coronavirus shutdown?

Beer is a massive part of German culture - particularly in Bavaria. But the shutdown is hitting small breweries hard.

Can Germany's small breweries survive the coronavirus shutdown?
A bar worker with beer at a restaurant in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, last year. Photo: DPA

Like many sectors, Germany's beer industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with sales down around 4.1 percent.

But while large breweries are profiting from increased sales in the food retail trade due to people buying a lot in supermarkets, smaller beer producers are struggling to survive.

Last year most beer festivals like Oktoberfest in Munich as well as smaller ones were cancelled – but that's only the tip of the iceberg as bar and restaurant closures have hit these breweries the hardest.

Above all, the many smaller beer producers who do not have a retail presence need pubs, bars and public festivals to survive.

Georg Schneider, President of the Bavarian Brewers' Association, told local broadcaster BR24: “If there is no turnover but the costs are there, you simply have a business problem.”

Breweries as collateral damage of hospitality closure

According to the brewers' association, about 30 percent of Bavarian beer is sold in restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs. 

As these places have been closed for months and no beer is being sold, the association fears a wave of upcoming bankruptcies in the beer industry. Adding to the problem is that Bavarian beer sales have also declined abroad.

In 2020,10 percent less beer was exported abroad than in the previous year.

But it's not just about financial losses and businesses staying afloat: there are also fears about damages to the image of the southern state.

“With the loss of beer culture,” warns Schneider, “Bavaria also loses a part of its tourist significance.”

Beer is a huge part of life in Bavaria. In fact, if Bavaria was to become a separate country, it would have the world's highest beer consumption, we wrote in 2019.

READ ALSO: How Bavaria fears coronavirus surge during parties to replace Oktoberfest

According to officials, Bavaria has a pro capita beer consumption that is approximately 40 percent above the national average.

Meanwhile, 40 percent of all the EU's breweries are reportedly situated in Bavaria.

Call for support

The Bavaria Brewers' Association has urged Germany to allow smaller beer producers to pay a reduced tax rate.

In addition to tax relief, the Brewers' Association is also calling for a support and rescue programme for catering businesses and restaurants. When they open, beer can be sold there again.

READ ALSO: Oktoberfest in numbers: An inside look at Germany's multi-billion business

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Bar closures and no Christmas markets: How Bavaria is tightening Covid rules

Bavaria will order the closure of all bars and clubs as part of sweeping new restrictions to try and control the Covid spread and ease overrun hospitals. Here's a look at what's planned.

Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich.
Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

On Friday Bavarian state leader Markus Söder announced more tough restrictions to deal with spiralling Covid infections and packed intensive care units.

“The corona drama continues,” said Söder after the cabinet meeting, adding that 90 percent of Covid patients in state hospitals are unvaccinated. “Being unvaccinated is a real risk.”

Bavaria has a vaccination rate of 65.9 percent – lower than the nationwide rate of almost 68 percent.

READ ALSO: Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets in Covid surge

Söder said the state’s Covid package was about “blocking, braking and boosting”, adding that vaccination centres will be ramped up. 

“We must act,” he said. “Bavaria is exhausting almost all legal means until December 15th.”

Earlier this week, Bavaria introduced a state-wide 2G rule, meaning only vaccinated people (geimpft) and people who’ve recovered from Covid (genesen) can enter many public spaces. People who are eligible to get vaccinated but choose not to get it are excluded. 

Here’s an overview of the planned restrictions set to come in on Wednesday, as reported by local broadcaster BR24. 

Bars, clubs and restaurant curfew

From Wednesday, and for three weeks, all nightlife like clubs, discos, bars, pubs and brothels in Bavaria are set to close their doors. Restaurants will have to shut at 10pm. So planned Christmas nights out will likely need to be cancelled or postponed. 

Christmas markets

There will be no Christmas or Christkindl markets in Bavaria this year. In the past days, several cities had announced that they would not be holding these events this year due to the Covid situation. 

Contact restrictions on the unvaccinated

Söder announced new restrictions on the number of people those who are not inoculated can socialise with. A maximum of five unvaccinated people will be allowed to meet, from two different households. Children under 12 will not be included in the total, as well as vaccinated or people who’ve recovered from Covid.

Cultural and sporting events

All cultural and sporting events can only take place with significantly reduced spectators. At theatres, opera performances, sporting events, in leisure centres and at trade fairs, there will be a 25-percent capacity limit. The 2G plus rule also applies. This means that only vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to enter (not the unvaccinated) – and only with a negative rapid test. Masks are compulsory everywhere.

Universities, driving schools, close-body services: 2G plus

All universities, driving schools, adult education centres and music schools will only be open to those who have been vaccinated and have recovered – making it 2G. This rule also applies to body-related services, like hairdressers and beauty salons. Only medical, therapeutic and nursing services are exempt from the 2G rule. So unvaccinated people can still go to the doctor or receive a medical procedure. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter


Shops remain exempt from 2G rules, meaning unvaccinated people can visit them. However, there is to be limits on capacity. This means that fewer customers are allowed into a shop at the same time.

Special rules for hotspots

Currently, the incidence in eight Bavarian districts is above 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in seven days. Here and in all other regions where the incidence goes above this number, public life is to be shut down as far as possible.

This means that restaurants, hotels and all sports and cultural venues will have to close. Hairdressers and other body-related service providers will also not be allowed to open for three weeks, and events will also have to be cancelled. Universities will only be allowed to offer digital teaching. Shops will remain open, but there must be 20 square metres of space per customer. This means that only half as many customers as in other regions are allowed in a shop.

If the incidence falls below 1,000 for at least five days, the rules are lifted.

Schools and daycare

Throughout Bavaria, schools and daycare centres are to remain open. However, there will be regular Covid testing. Children and young people have to continue to wear a face mask during lessons, including school sports, unless they are exercising outside. 

Bavaria is expected to approve the measures on Tuesday and they will be in force until at least December 15th. We’ll keep you updated if there are any changes.