The 500-Year Old German Beer Purity Law – Reinheitsgebot

Germans are known for their beer. It’s a delicious institution, and people travel from around the world to try their famous brews. You can thank the German Beer Purity Law (or not).

Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law by those that are completely unable to pronounce the word, is a broad name for a law that dictates what can and cannot go into beer production.

But what is this law, and why was it ever introduced? We’ll take a stroll down history lane to learn more about the law behind the world-famous beers.

The Setting Is Bavaria, 1516

Bavaria is a region in the southeast of Germany, well known for its beer. The capital of the region is Munich, home to the world-famous Oktoberfest celebration. Beer runs through their veins in Bavaria.

It is in this region that we find the most common iteration of Reinheitsgebot – a law that has phased in and out of German tradition for hundreds of years. On April 23, 1516, Bavaria passed the most famous version of the German Beer Purity Law.

Under Bavaria’s new law, beer could only be made of water, hops and barley. That’s it. Makes for a pretty bland beer, sure – but remember, this is the home of some of the most famous beer in the world.

Why make such a preposterous law? So their beer was pure as gold! Not really, though. The law was passed to try and keep the prices of wheat and rye down so people could afford to eat. Pretty considerate of the lawmakers.

Unfortunately, this law made some beer styles go extinct – but made beer masters of the classic German biers.

So, Germany Still Can’t Make Anything Other Than Pilsners?

Germans can make whatever type of beer they want; that is, as long as they only use water, hops, barley and yeast (which was eventually allowed).

Yes, this law still exists today, much to the chagrin of many beer brewers in Germany. Over the past hundred years or so, the lambics from Belgium and the craft brews from America have left many German brewers dreaming of a day where they can experiment with new beer recipes.

You have to admit that beer can really only get so good when you only use four ingredients. Sure, these beers are kick ass and delicious, but sometimes you want a little bit of something else.

You also have to wonder what the world of beer would look like without Reinheitsgebot. Would Germany have created new and incredible beers we never heard of? Would craft have taken off decades sooner? Or would craft beer have never become a trend due to incredible German imports?

These are questions best pondered over a nice stein of weissbier.

Thomas Short

Thomas Short is a freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. His work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, CraftBeer.com, and more. You can reach Thomas at tshort0702@gmail.com.

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