Could German Beer Lovers Go Thirsty This Summer?

German beer drinkers could have a hard time enjoying their favorite pilsners and ales this summer, but not because brewers can't make enough beer — instead, German breweries are facing a bottle shortage crisis.

For breweries, the price of creating or buying new glass bottles is increasing so rapidly as to be unsustainable: For some brewers without long-term contracts, bottle prices are jumping by as much as 80%, per the New York Times. Why? Russia's invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the country's status as a key glass producer and made exporting glass from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus more difficult. And energy costs are going up, too. Producing glass bottles takes a tremendous amount of heat, and the Times reports that one brewer has seen his electricity bill quadruple and his natural gas bill jump by almost 400%.

Just as most food prices are getting even worse, beer prices have already been rising this year at more than double the pace of both wine and spirits, per VinePair, and the bottle shortage could only serve to inflate prices further. When a glass bottle shortage affected wine last year, high costs weren't the only obstacle. The wine actually started tasting worse as it spent too long in barrels before it could be bottled (via Business Insider). But despite the shortage brewers are facing, the ironic twist is that the bottles they need already exist, empty, in homes across Germany — and beer fans could even earn money back by returning them.

Germany is encouraging citizens to return empty bottles

If Germans want to be able to enjoy affordable and delicious beer this summer, they'll need to pitch in — by cleaning their houses and bringing their empty bottles back to breweries.

When it comes to wine, there are several reasons that canned may be better than bottled, but German beer is the opposite. After low-waste environmental regulations were passed in the early 2000s, most domestic beer sold in Germany is made in bottles, which can be returned to breweries and reused, rather than single-use cans (via Live Work Germany). And with 65% of the country's waste going into color-coded recycling bins, plus high composting rates, Germans pride themselves on being the best recyclers in the world, per The New York Times. But this appears not to extend to participation in German brewers' beer bottle return program.

Despite a national refund program for bringing back empty bottles, about 4 billion glass bottles — that averages out to 48 per person — are floating around the basements and porches of Germany (via VinePair). Many Germans, if they haven't forgotten altogether, prefer to return many bottles at once to maximize the refund (via The New York Times). But bringing back empty bottles more consistently would significantly relieve the shortage and ease prices, a beer industry spokesman said, per BBC — and probably lead to a happier summer for beer fans leading up to Oktoberfest, too.