by Arthur W. Wellman
Hello Bob -I know it's a bit premature to ask you and your readers
to raise a stein to Germany’s famous beer purity law known as
“das Reinheitsgebot” as it celebrates its 500th birthday this year on
April 23 but who said you have to wait until the actual
date to toast something good?
It started out as an order in the duchy of Munich and became
law of the land in all Bavaria in 1516. Indeed, Reinheitsgebot was
so important that in 1871 Bavaria insisted on national acceptance
of it before agreeing to unification of Germany under Otto von
Bismarck. This essentially ended the market for beer from Northern
Germany which contained spices and cherries.
The law was originally enacted by Munich’s Duke William IX, who was
worried that the beverage was becoming profoundly adulterated.
The original rules stipulated that only three ingredients could be used
in the making of beer: barley, hops and water—though yeast
was later added after for its role in fermentation. Some also believe
an underlying motive for it's introduction was to prevent wheat and
rye needed for bread from being used for brewing.
Any beer found to contain other ingredients was originally confiscated
by the government. Today however mixed beers not brewed
according to “das Reinheitsgebot” all carry a label stating so. The
German attitude to “foreign” beers has also mellowed, with
the country opening the doors to imported beer in 1993.
A European court of justice repealed the Reinheitsgebot in May 1987.
The repeal allowed other ingredients to be added: Whatever was
allowed in other foods, the court said, must also be allowed in beer.
But six years later a new law, the Provisional German Beer Law (the
Biergesetz) -- a sort of a Reinheitsgebot Light -- attempted to
maintain the high German standards for brewing while permitting
certain ingredients. Beer made in any other way, in Germany, could
not properly be called beer.
Today the vast majority of German breweries -- there are around
1,300 of them -- say they adhere to the original Reinheitsgebot.
As beer fans get ready for the big birthday celebrations in April, craft
brewers in Germany want to see changes to the law that forces them
to label their non-complying products as “mixed beer beverages”.
They argue their ingredients, including organic quince or coriander,
should qualify as “pure.” I think they have a point, don't you Bob?
While Reinheitsgebot has it's place in the past and today I think the
younger German beer drinkers are looking for more adventure in their
brews. Need proof? Consumption of beer has dropped dramatically in
Germany since the 1970s, from 150 liters to 107. Young people have
reduced their alcohol intake with just 35% drinking alcohol once
per week compared to 67 %t in the ‘70s.
As a consumer protection law (perhaps the world's first), the
Reinheitsgebot has kept German beer free of such noxious
adulterants as narcotic herbs and chemical preservatives as well as
the corn and rice adjuncts used to lighten mass-market beer.
But it also has prevented German brewers from using enhancers
as fruits, herbs, spices, and exotic grains.
As for me, I love all kinds of beer but also believe there's a place for
Reinheitsgbot. By the way, some claim the Purity Laws are why most
German beers don’t give you a hangover. Sadly for me, I say yes,
they definitely do – and have had many a sore head to prove it.
That's it Bob. Thanks for letting me say a few words.
Enjoyed your article Arthur. I too enjoy a fine German lager on
occasion and appreciate it's brewing history. I also agree that many
drinkers in German are looking for more excitement in their beers which
explains why American craft imports sell so well there. Thanks for
sending in you article. Hope you write again soon!
I'd like to invite everyone to send me their own columns about anything
related to beer/drinking/booze just as Henry did. I select the best and
publish them here. So join in and get writing.
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