Brewster booster

How a woman became the toast of Germany’s brewing scene

Bierpreis
Thirsty work but someone’s got to do it. Source: DPA

Susanne Horn, 44, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. Ten years ago, she became Germany’s first woman to run a brewery without belonging to the family that owns it. To make matters worse, she didn’t even have a brewing background — she came from the real estate sector.

The German brewing industry, steeped in tradition, set in its ways and exclusively male, frothed at such audacity and made its displeasure known at the first industry gathering she attended at Lake Wörther as the head of Lammsbräu, a Bavarian organic brewery.

“I sat there alone among men who completely ignored me,” she recalled in an interview with Handelsblatt. She said there were a few “unpleasant comments.” One brewer even rang up the owner of Lammsbräu, Franz Ehrnsperger, to ask whether he couldn’t get rid of the woman.

“It took a lot of strength,” said Ms. Horn. But she never considered giving up. And Mr. Ehrnsperger is probably glad that she didn’t because Lammsbräu’s sales have more than doubled to 217,000 hectoliters in her decade in charge, with revenue surging to €24.1 million ($27.9 million) from €10.4 million.

And that in an overall market that has been in decline for years. Beer sales in Germany fell to 94 million hectoliters from 96 million last year alone. Germany’s per capita consumption of beer has plunged to just over 100 liters from 150 liters in the mid-1970s.

How did she do it? She admits being an organic brewery has helped Lammsbräu to tap the organic boom, and while the increasingly popular small craft breweries are rivals, they have helped to establish a beer market which places a focus on high-quality raw materials and natural brewing methods.

Susanne Horn brewer 0204819565 Lammsbraeu Brauerei
It’s no longer a man’s world. Source: Neumarkter Lammsbräu Brauerei

But she can be credited with successfully launching an organic lemonade. In doing so, she overcame the misgivings of her boss, Mr. Ehrnsperger, who remarked, “That could ruin the company.” Today, the lemonade is an important source of revenue, along with the range of alcohol-free beers that Ms. Horn expanded.

“The success we’re having shows we took the right path,” said Ms. Horn.

Her former doubters appear to agree. In a sign that her peers now take her seriously, they elected her to the board of Germany’s association of private brewers five years ago.

While rival brewers gave her a hard time, her colleagues at Lammsbräu were more welcoming than she had expected, possibly because they had faith in Mr. Ehrnsperger’s judgment. It probably didn’t hurt that she took pains to learn the ropes, studying the intricacies of the brewing process and getting to know the 60-strong workforce personally.

Off to brew with the monks

To be sure, she was always meant to be an interim manager. Mr. Ehrnsperger, a pioneer in organic beer who himself faced and overcame resistance from the brewing establishment that unsuccessfully sued him for unfair competition in the 1980s, picked her because he wanted to retire from the day-to-day management and his son Johannes was too young to succeed him.

But Johannes, now 28, will take over next year, having studied business and brewing. That means Ms. Horn is off to pastures new, and her next job underscores that she’s truly arrived in the German brewing scene.

She has been anointed as manager of a bigger brewery, Bischofshof, which is owned by the Catholic church and includes the famous Weltenburg brewery where monks have been making beer since 1050 AD.

“It’s another totally new challenge,” said Ms. Horn, a practicing Christian.

These days, she’s chairwoman of the chamber of commerce in the town of Neumarkt and at brewers’ meetings, no one treats her as an outsider anymore. But she readily admits she’ll never be able to match the hard drinking of brewery proprietors. “You can’t catch up on that, it’s in the genes,” she said.

Not that she wants to. There’s something much more important to her: Other brewers have started ringing her up to ask for advice. Ten years after she was shunned at Lake Wörther, there’s no higher accolade than that.

Handelsblatt’s Axel Höpner covers companies and markets, particularly in Munich, where he is based. To contact the author: hoepner@handelsblatt.com

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