What’s the most popular alcoholic drink in the world? If you answered beer, you are correct. There is little wonder to this, especially since you can find beer in nearly every country that consumes alcohol. In countries with more established drinking cultures like Belgium and Germany, beer is an integral part of both the culture and the history of the country.
While there are many countries that have been integral in the creation of beer as we know it today, there is one alone which stands above the rest – Germany. Why is this? There has been more than one major influence brought about by German brewers that affected beer, probably the most important one however is a law called the Reinheitsgebot.
All around the world, craft brewers are proud to showcase beers they have created that adhere to this strict law, and many beer snobs believe this to be the shining example of what makes great beer. Yet, so few people actually know about it. So, in this week’s article we are going to take a look at this law.
The Reinheitsgebot (Rine-heightS-ga-boat) – also known as the German Beer Purity Law, or the Bavarian Purity Law – was a law enacted by the government of Bavaria (south east Germany) in 1516 and is related to the brewing and sale of beer. Like many other countries in Europe at the time, almost anything that could be fermented was turned into a beer like drink, or used in the production of beer. This often led to beer that made people sick, or was nearly undrinkable.
At this time, bread was also a staple, and being made of the same base ingredient – wheat – as beer, there was a bit of a price war going on between the bakers and the brewers for this ingredient. What this led to was an increase in the price of food, forcing the government to enact the law which aimed to do two things:
Limit the ingredients allowed in beer, thereby increasing the overall quality.
Reduce food prices by restricting what type of grain was used in the production beer.
According to the law, “In all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.” In other words – Fail to use these ingredients, and only these ingredients and the authorities will take your beer, and therefore your profits, from you.
Wait, what about yeast?
Reading the law above, it’s easy to notice that one essential ingredient for brewing is missing from the list: yeast. This is because it had not actually been discovered at this time. Beer was instead fermented by usually exposing it to the air during the brewing process.
Yeast, which is naturally in the air when the brewers were brewing would then be blown into the brewery and land in the vats, starting fermentation.
Is this law still relevant?
The law was more or less abandoned in Germany in the last 1980s and replaced with what the Germans call Biergesetz. This new law is essentially an expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot and allows for water, malted barley, hops and yeast to be used in bottom fermented beers (Lagers). Top fermented beers (Ales) can also be brewed using up to four different kinds of malt and sugar.
That being said, there are still the odd beers that follow the original 1516 law, using only the three main ingredients. But, the vast majority of brewers that say their beers are brewed following the rules are actually following the Biergesetz, using the reinheitsgebot as a way to market the overall quality of the beer.
Regardless of which law brewers are following, beer brewed in Germany still must adhere to one of the two laws. This means that German beer will not usually have the adjuncts like rice or corn added in during the brewing process by other brewers in other countries. In fact, any brewer that follows these laws can be said to be brewing ‘pure beer’.
Wish of the week
Landskron Weizen – 500 ml
If you are looking for a pure beer that goes well with the summer heat, give this one a try. This medium bodied, yet fizzy beer has a somewhat tart and fruity taste which will go down smooth on a sultry Bangkok evening. Try it today.