Beer sales in most of western Europe rose strongly last year as consumers across the Continent looked for any means possible to cool down during the heatwave in July and August.
But not, it seems, in one of western Europe's biggest beer markets, Germany, where consumption fell once again in 2003, according to the German Brewers' Association (DBB). The reason for the decline? Changing consumer tastes and the disastrous desposit scheme for one-way packaging.
Speaking at the annual Green Week trade fair in Berlin, DBB president Richard Weber told journalists that exports had risen by to 12 million hectolitres, 11 per cent of total output, during the year - showing that consumers in the rest of Europe were still quite happy to pick German beer to quench their thirst - but that this increase was not enough to offset the decline at home.
Output by Germany's 1,280 breweries was estimated at 104 million hectolitres in 2003 - around 5 per cent lower than the previous year, continuing the decade long decline in output.
Germany's ageing population was cited as the principal cause of the decline by Weber: young people have traditionally been the main consumers of beer, and with fewer of them in the market place, beer sales have clearly suffered.
But to make matters worse, young German consumers are also drinking less beer, preferring products with a more youthful image such as white spirits. The brewers have attempted to tackle this by introducing products such as beer and cola mixes - with some success - but the fact remains that beer has a old-fashioned image in Germany which is proving hard to shake off.
But 2003 sales were also badly hit by the Berlin government's introduction of a depsosit system on one-way packaging - such as aluminium beer cans.
The scheme was badly implemented, with consumers forced to return the packaging to the point of purchase to reclaim their deposit. This angered the retail trade, who argued that they were being forced to bear this additional cost because their was no national network of recycling points for one-way containers, unlike recyclable ones, and many supermarkets simply stopped selling one-way containers.
"Most brewers sell 80 per cent of their beer within 150 kilometres of the brewery," Weber said at the press conference. "If they have to collect their own empty bottles, they cannot afford to sell beer outside of their region because transportation costs are too high," he said.
Weber was also highly critical of the government's alcohol taxation policy, in particular with regard to mixed drinks. He said that while taxation was one way of curbing excessive alcohol consumption, it was unclear what the government hoped to achieve by raising the tax on pre-mixed products such as Radler (beer and cola) whicha re often chosen by consumers opting for a lower alcohol content.