After 670 years: one of the oldest breweries in Bavaria must close

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Written By Maya Cantina

Salz/Bad Neustadt an der Saale – Herbert Brust (60) reserves the very last crate of beer for himself. But not to put it on a shelf and let it collect dust as a souvenir. “I’ll drink it myself,” says the owner of the Karmeliter-Bräu brewery in Salz. The community near Bad Neustadt an der Saale in the Rhön-Grabfeld district is located about 20 kilometers from Bad Kissingen.

670 years in business: the Lower Franconian brewery is closing

During the conversation you sense that it is not easy for the brewery boss, but that he has now made the decision: the Lower Franconian company will close in June after more than 670 years.

The 60-year-old is currently very busy and has a lot to take care of. When AZ spoke to him on the phone, the filling installation was about to be dismantled. Brust takes a pragmatic approach to the ending, you have to check it off internally. “That is of course not fun. But I have not yet found a solution for the succession within the family.” He also looked for a successor outside. For five whole years. With the help of various intermediaries. Ultimately without success.

Herbert Brust in front of the bottle cleaning machine - this will also be demolished.
Herbert Brust in front of the bottle cleaning machine – this will also be demolished.
© private
Herbert Brust in front of the bottle cleaning machine – this will also be demolished.

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Breweries in crisis? “The sector is under enormous cost pressure”

In 2019, the situation still looked promising and there were people interested. Then Corona came, the search became more difficult. “Since the crisis in Ukraine, it has been virtually impossible to find someone who wants to continue the business as it is today, because the sector is under enormous cost pressure and ultimately there is not much left,” says Brust.

“Last winter, the last two interested parties canceled, and then I had to make a decision.” And that meant the end of a centuries-long tradition.

Karmeliter-Bräu in Bad Neustadt-Salz: Monks founded the brewing tradition in 1352

You can read the history on the brewery’s website: “The Karmeliter-Bräu zu Bad Neustadt-Salz in the beautiful Rhön is one of the oldest breweries in Bavaria. The roots of the monastery go back to the early Middle Ages.” Construction of a monastery began in 1348 and was completed in 1352. The background was a promise that “Neustadt would be spared from the plague that was raging throughout Europe at the time.”

That is how it actually happened and the monastery was built in honor of the ‘Lady of Mount Carmel’, as it is explained. The monks in the monastery founded the brewing tradition. The logo still features a monk and the year 1352.

Premium beers are sold cheaply

“People have been nesting here for over 650 years, far away from the big cities “A classic monastery beer is brewed in the beautiful nature of the Rhön,” it says on the page. The brewery has been owned by the Herbert Brust family since 1923.

At first he debated whether he should continue. But permanent employees were also now retiring. He also describes finding suitable staff to replace employees who have worked well for decades as difficult.

The brewery produced 7,000 to 8,000 hectoliters of beer per year. He calls it ‘obvious’. For comparison: total turnover at Bavarian breweries last year (despite declining sales figures) amounted to 23.4 million hectoliters.

There has always been competition in the beer country of Franconia. “In the past you had competition from companies around the corner. Now you have to deal with competition that is a thousand times bigger than you,” says the master brewer. Large competitors and constant price promotions where “premium beers are sold for around ten euros” make life more difficult for smaller companies.

His assessment for the future: “Many small businesses will fail as collateral damage, because very few businesses will be able to get their costs and revenues under control enough to ultimately achieve a bottom line that encourages them to continue.”

Thanks to all customers and employees

What will change for him personally: If the company closes soon, he can go away for a weekend or a week in the summer. As a brewery owner, this was not possible without problems in previous years.

During the weekend they were available more or less around the clock if customers needed something for an event, for example. “The customer was always king.” They all thought it was a shame that the brewery was closing, is Brust’s conclusion. But he also received understanding and good wishes. It is therefore important for him to expressly thank the company’s customers and friends, as well as his employees, who have remained loyal to him ‘without exception until the end’.

When will Karmeliter-Bräu stop selling?

Sales are expected to last until mid-June. He will not be able to resell his brewing inventory. “A lot of things that worked last week are going straight to the scrap heap. That’s a bit bitter.” The systems were old, but in good condition due to the few operating hours. However, he found no one for it.

Finally, some good news: the Karmeliter-Bräu brand will not disappear, an interested party wants to continue it.

Breweries: development in Bavaria

As the Bavarian State Statistical Office shows based on beer tax statistics, a total of 622 breweries were operated in the Free State in 2023, which is five breweries fewer than in the previous year (2022: 627). Bavaria (minus 24), North Rhine-Westphalia (minus 14) and Hesse (minus ten) are the states with the largest decline in the number of breweries since March 2023 since 2019, according to the German Brewers Association.

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