Germany: Small maltings in great distress

Germany is the still the country with the largest number of maltings in the world.  More than 40 maltings had been around at the turn of the century. However, in recent years small maltings in Germany became the victims of the pandemic and their own scandals.

In the past, larger German maltings like Weissheimer, Heine, Durst, Tivoli, Kreuznacher and Schill may have changed hands but the malting sites themselves were hardly closed. This has changed in recent years and it seems that small family maltings with a tradition going back 100 years and more will have a hard time to survive.

The reasons are the environmental and quality standards which are hard to monitor and even more to fulfill for small maltsters. On top, the about a dozen family maltsters in Germany with a yearly production capacity of less than 10,000 metric tons of malt have often outdated production sites and lack the money to invest in modern technology and monitoring system or to hire extra personnel for the quality control.

In recent years there have been a few scandals where malt which was not up to the specs was delivered to breweries. Even worse, these breweries made beer from the malt which was later detected by the official food control. While the breweries had to recall their products from trade, the maltsters mostly did not only lose the money but also their clients.

In 2011, a small brewery from the south of Bavaria had to recall some 185hl of beer because of malt with an NDMA value above the limits. The same happened in 2014 to a brewery from Bamberg and again in 2016 with another brewery in Upper Franconia. At that time Klostermalz Wirth, a small but up to then well reputed malthouse from the Nuremberg region had to close its doors forever. The irony of the story was that this malthouse had not produced the malt itself, but had obtained it from another maltster in the South-West of Germany, who was not prosecuted for the damage. Klostermalz’s downfall was the fact that it had not tested the malt and sold the malt as its own, concealing its true origin.

Last month The Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety detected two new cases of beer with higher than allowed levels of NDMA. This time, two larger breweries were affected. Andechser Klosterbrauerei, a monastery brewery from Southern Bavaria with a production of more than 100,000 hl per year and Paulaner Brauerei, which runs a fairly new brewery from 2015 in Bavaria’s capital Munich. (, 2.6.2017) Reputedly, 1.500 hl of Paulaner Salvator, a dark and strong beer that is usually brewed and sold only during winter, were affected.

This time, a maltster from the city of Kirchheim-Bolanden was identified to be responsible for the damage. According to its own statements, a defect at one of the kilns used for the production of Munich malt was responsible for the contamination. However, the maltster lacked an explanation why this damage had not been detected by himself.

Not only self-inflicted scandals but also the lack of successors, the overall decline of beer consumption in Germany and especially in the last two years, a sharp drop in sales caused by the COVID pandemic, and skyrocketing barley and energy costs have led to despair and resignation.

As a result, several smaller malthouses in Germany, that have proven to be quite resilient in the past have closed their doors for good. The most recent example of this is the Kulmbach malt house Johann Zeitler, which is closing forever after more than 155 years.

The Bavarian food safety and veterinary control had identified serious hygiene deficiencies in the malthouse in last February and closed part of the production. The delivery of malt to what they claim to be around 50 customers was subject to the strictest controls.

At the end of the year, Horst Beyer, Managing Director of the malt house, has drawn the necessary conclusions.  “I will stop while I still can,” he says. The company with a yearly malting capacity of 12,000 metric tons will shut its doors forever. Production of malt has already stopped and existing barley and malt contracts will be processed as best as possible. It is questionable if all existing malt contracts can still be delivered to the clients. In many cases, competitors have come to the rescue and have taken over the existing contracts, but usually not at the significantly lower prices of the previous year. The parties still have to clarify what will happen to the difference in price. Certainly the situation remains difficult in the current year, not only for the malthouses but also for their clients.

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