500 Years of Better Beer 3

The next time you pick up a German beer, have a look at the label. All German beer labels carry the inscription, “Gebraut nach dem deutschen Reinheitsgebot” or “Gebraut nach dem Bayerischen Reinheitsgebot von 1516” (brewed according to the German Purity Law or the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516). The law, which is the oldest, still valid, food safety law in the world, was a ducal decree issued on April 23, 1516 by the Bavarian co-rulers Duke Wilhelm IV and Duke Ludwig X. The law was introduced at a meeting of an assembly by the states of Bavaria, and was initially only in feudal Bavaria, but later declared to be the law in all of Germany. The law essentially permitted the government to have the tools to regulate the ingredients, processes and quality of beer that was sold to the public, in addition to levying taxes on beer.

All German beer labels carry the inscription, “Gebraut nach dem deutschen Reinheitsgebot” or “Gebraut nach dem Bayerischen Reinheitsgebot von 1516” (brewed according to the German Purity Law or the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516). The law, which is the oldest, still valid, food safety law in the world, was a ducal decree issued on April 23, 1516 by the Bavarian co-rulers Duke Wilhelm IV and Duke Ludwig X.

The original law stipulated that only barley, hops and water may be used, since the existence of yeast had not yet been discovered. The purpose of the law was simply to keep beer “pure” and to keep out cheap ingredients like rushes, roots, mushrooms and animal products. In medieval times, brewers often used such ingredients to raise their profits, subsequently lowering the standards of their beer. Oddly enough though, the word “Reinheit” (purity) didn’t appear anywhere in the original text. It actually started to make an appearance in German legal texts around 1918. Until then, the law was typically referred to as the “surrogate prohibition.” Nowadays, the purity law is part of the German tax code, and states that, in bottom-fermented beers, also known as lagers, brewers may only use those four ever so important ingredients. More specifically, the rule forbids the brewing in Germany of lagers containing spices, corn or rice, sugar, un-malted grains, as well as chemical additives and stabilizers.

Now, not all German beers are lagers, and for top-fermented beers, which hold about 10% of the German market, the Reinheitsgebot is a bit more generous in terms of permitted icletradition in Northern Germany, as well as in part to accommodate the centuries old, entirely wheat-based wheat beer brewing tradition in Bavaria. German ales, in addition to the standard four ingredients, may contain “other” malted grains, as well as different forms of sugar, but still no chemicals or other processed compounds.

Some would argue that German brewers are purists, or a bit boring, but others would consider them more traditionalists, trying to preserve the quality of their beer. Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, German lagers are widely acclaimed as the best of the best, so maybe there’s something to the Reinheitsgebot that the rest of the world is missing out on.

Celebrations taking place in 2016:

From February 19–July 24, 2016, the exhibition, “Bier, Braukunst und 500 Jahre deutsches Reinheitsgebot” (“Beer, the Art of Brewing, and 500 years of the German Reinheitsgebot”), takes place in Mannheim. The exhibition showcases the history and background of the Reinheitsgebot and its importance today. The exhibition is shown at the Technoseum (Museum of Work and Technology).

From April 22–April 24, 2016, “Fest zum reinen Bier” Festival for the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot takes place in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, where the law was signed on April 23, 1516. The festival will be held in the old town district. Various music performances will take place, as well as different activities for kids, such as storytelling. As part of the event, an exhibition will be hosted, which provides background information on Germany’s beer tradition and the history of the Reinheitsgebot. The highlight of the event is the opening of the barrel at the Georgianum, which is one of the most historic buildings in Ingolstadt.

From July 22–July 24, 2016, a lavish beer festival will be celebrated right in the city center of Munich. About 100 breweries are expected to present their best beer in the area around the Field Marshals’ Hall and Odeonsplatz. On three stages, a colorful program featuring show and music from traditional Bavarian folk music to international big band sounds will provide great entertainment.