It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - Did you realize that this month marks 500 years since the Duke of Bavaria
introduced the "Reinheitsgebot" or purity law - strict rules controlling what can go into beer.
The decree was, issued in Ingolstadt in 1516 (weren't you born around then? Ha) It had three
aims: to protect drinkers from high prices; to ban the use of wheat in beer so more bread could
be made; and to stop unscrupulous brewers from adding dubious toxic and even
hallucinogenic ingredients as preservatives or flavourings. The law was gradually implemented
in other parts of Germany.until It eventually became law in the whole country in 1906. Most
people call it the oldest currently valid consumer protection law in the world.
Today the law now states that malted grains, hops, water and yeast may be used - but nothing
else. Beers brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot have special status under European
Union laws as a protected traditional foodstuff. The country is pretty proud of its beer and
the purity law as well they should be. Bill, I feel the Reinheitsgebot delivers the cleanest
experience in beer drinking. And I'm not alone in that. Germany exports 1.5 billion litres of
beer every year,. German polls show that 85% of the population considers the Reinheitsgebot
to be an important part of the nation’s heritage , and 89% of young people agree. Certainly,
Germans understand the law better than Americans, who believe all kinds of misconceptions –
most famously that yeast joined the list of accepted ingredients in 1906 only because brewers
didn’t know about it much before then.
Understandably German officials haven’t taken kindly to certain disruptions in their beer purity
law. In 1987, the European Union had to force Germany to accept non-adhering imports, and
non-compliant technological advances like forced carbonation, modern clarifying agents and
stabilizers leave German brewers behind.
I know there are many nay sayers out there. Some say the law has led to uniformity and
industrial-scale production rather than innovation in the industry. I disagree. Some say it's
even illegal to make a gluten-free beer since maize or rice is used instead of barley or wheat -
these are free of the troublesome gluten but not allowed under the German Reinheitsgebot.
Right but there is good news for beer-loving coeliacs - a new beer which the manufacturers
claim is the first gluten-free beer brewed under the Reinheitsgebot has just been launched. It
uses a new Australian barley which is low in gluten. The beer is only available in Germany at
the moment. Also, just in case you were worrying about it, German brewers are able to make
alcohol-free beer using just the four ingredients.
Bill, I for one hope the Reinheitsgebot will survive another 500 years, especially considering
that the E.U. denied Germany’s application to designate it an intangible cultural heritage. It is
true that adherence to the law demands that German brewers become more exacting and
arguably more skilled. But please note that it’s easy to cover up flaws with a massive infusion
of espresso or fruits and not so easy to do so when your beer is restrained and unadulterated.
And when you can’t rely on the shortcuts that advances in beer making afford your foreign
peers, you’re forced to become a true craftsman.. Yes, it’s tough to brew according to the
Reinheitsgebot,....you have to have a really talented brewer. And that's why I like it!
The Reinheitsgebot has contributed to a very steady German brewing industry whose
breweries have numbered between 1300 and 1400 for the past decade or two. If the
Reinheitsgebot does last for the next half-eon, that quantity may remain consistent. And so
too should the quality.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Well, you're probably not going to be surprised that I disagree with you, then again if I didn't we
wouldn't have this column. To put it simply, in my opinion the Reinheitsgebot is totally irrelevant.
When you say that German beer is good because German brewers are highly skilled and make
their beer with pride and care did you ever consider the fact that any macro commercial brewery
will can easily manage to brew their yellow liquid either within or without the constraints of the
Reinheitsgebot.? The law has nothing to do with quality as I see it.
There are dozens of really awful beers that meet the old Reinheitsgebot rules - Beck’s, Heineken,
Tuborg, Holsten, etc.. The idea that ‘Reinheitsgebot equals quality’ is just wrong.
The German aristocrats who issued the edict justified themselves by claiming they were making
beer safer and boosting its pervasively poor quality by outlawing additives – think chalk, soot and
even hard boiled eggs — that an unregulated industry used at whim at a time when respectable
ingredients were scarce. From what I've read there is another truth,namely that the nobles simply
wanted to increase production so they could collect more fees from brewers while ensuring the
upper class didn’t run out of the wheat and rye their cooks needed to bake bread.
Whichever the case, I blame the Reinheitsgebot for leading people to consider German beers to
be boringly similar. It gives critics a reason to complain that the rule, still on the books though not
necessarily enforced, stifles creativity and has no place in the modern world.
Look Gina, the Reinheitsgebot is not my enemy; I’m just in favor of more diversity and openness.
I want the consumer to decide if a beer is good or bad, and not some public authority.
Remember, brewers are artists, too. Limiting their palettes to three or four colors makes no
sense. As long as it tastes good, beer should be made with anything the brewer chooses
One can argue that despite Germans’ reputation for brewing exceptional beer, it’s the Belgians,
with their spiced and fruity ales, whom American craft brewers more readily admire and copy.
Gina, I know you love those Belgium beers but remember most of them do not comply with the
German Purity code, including fruit lambics and faro (gueuze made with sugar). Need more
proof? Consider that Belgian beer bars seem to outnumber German ones in the U.S.. And if the
law was that good please explain why only a very few breweries, in the US adhere to that German
And did you realize that many of Germany’s finest beer styles do not even comply with the
original law, including Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Berliner Weisse, Roggenbier, and Gose?
Oh, let's just agree to disagree and meet for a beer later tonight. How about a good old
Ballantine IPA? You'll never mistake it for a German Lager.
Here's looking at you Gina