BERLIN (AP) -- Rainy weather, smoking bans, an aging population and a preference for more health-conscious fare have put a stout dent in the sale of beer in Germany, leaving the nation's brewers ailing, a report said Thursday.
Sales of beer -- a veritable staple in Germany for centuries -- dropped from January to June to their lowest level since the government's Federal Statistics Office began keeping tabs on such figures in 1991.
The office said that German breweries and beer storage facilities sold some 1.3 billion gallons (4.9 billion liters) of beer in the first half of 2009. That is nearly 60 billion gallons (230 million liters), or about 4.5 percent, less than in the first six months of 2008.
Beer proponents blamed fickle weather for a summer that's been more wet than sunny.
"The weather gods are the number one factor in beer sales," Peter Hahn, director of the German Brewery Association, told The Associated Press.
The excess rain has meant fewer barbecues or evenings at the neighborhood beer gardens, drinking cold ones with friends and family.
Hahn also cited Germany's aging population as a factor.
"We have a changing population," he said. "Older people drink less and there are not enough young people to make up for it."
Beyond regular beer, an even steeper decline was seen in the sales of beer mixed with lemonade, soda or fruit juices, which fell 7.4 percent to 210 million liters (56 million gallons) compared to last year.
German beer consumption has been steadily declining over the past decade, something often blamed on higher prices due to increased production costs, as well as a more health-conscious public.
Numerous smoking bans have also been implemented across the country, forcing beer-swilling patrons to head outside for a smoke instead of staying at the table and ordering another round.
"The air is getting thinner (for breweries)", Hahn said.