U.S. Army Beer Consumption in Reagan’s Europe. Part I.

In 1981 the magazine Army Host reported on beer consumption of American troops at Army exchanges in Europe. This meant Western Europe but included Turkey at the time.

Army exchange sales meant at clubs or retail stores (PX) on base. It is clear, from the issue linked in general, that troops were not restricted to buying beer on base.



They could frequent bars and restaurants in town, or buy from town supermarkets, but clearly a large amount was sold through clubs or the PX.

The article refers to consumption in “Europe”, but persons interviewed were located in Darmstadt, Germany, and the story is German-centric.

The reason is, most U.S. troops in Europe in the 1980s were stationed in Germany. Statistics on a PBS webpage show the Europe-wide complement circa 1981 at 346,747, of which 250,000 were in Germany.

So, about 72% in Germany. According to Army Host German beer was well-represented among the “imports” sold including Beck’s, Lowenbrau and Binding, but probably outside Germany some local beer was carried, say in Britain.

Americans preferred their own beer for better than 50% of exchange sales. U.S. beer was generally cheaper than German beer, $6.40 per case for the no. 1 seller, Budweiser, vs. $7.00 for Henninger and $8.00 for Lowenbrau.

Yet, the non-U.S. beer sales almost matched the American, even though more expensive.

It’s true some German beer at supermarkets could be had for less money than Budweiser, but I doubt many soldiers patronized such stores. Another story in the same issue reported on tensions between locals and Army troops, which suggests such patronage was not the rule.

The fact that Michelob did as well as it did is another testament to the taste discrimination exercised by soldiers overseas, as its price had to be higher than Budweiser’s.

The opinions in the piece comparing American and German beer are interesting, and not untypical I think of popular conceptions. One person said German beer was stronger than U.S. beer.

This almost certainly was not the case, each on average would have been about 5% abv. And American light beer hadn’t made the national impact seen today.

No brand of light beer is even mentioned in the story. One soldier thought American beer “milder” than German beer, which is fair enough.

His view that American beer was less caloric is plausible too, although I don’t think the margin was significant. (I have some data on this, and will revisit).

1981 was well before craft beer started to make an impact nationally. The main alternative to U.S. beer then, if not wine and liquor, was European beer. And of course German beer carried a prime reputation.

One can assume returning soldiers formed part of the emerging market for craft beer. A familiarity with well-hopped beer of good body would have primed them for this.

Part II follows.

Note: source of image(s) above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.



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