Happy 500th Anniversary Reinheitsgebot!
It’s been 500 years since the Reinheitsgebot, a.k.a. German Purity Law, was issued in Germany. Read on to discover the history of this time-honored German beer tradition.
By Shira Kogut on Jul. 06, 2016
What is Reinheitsgebot?
Also know as “the German Beer Purity Law”, Reinheitsgebot is the collection of rules and regulations that restrict ingredients in classic German beers (also applicable in the German predecessor states). The Reinheitsgebot law was issued on April 23, 1616.
How to pronounce “Reinheitsgebot”:
The correct way to pronounce “Reinheitsgebot” is like this: “Rine Heights Ge-Boat”.
The History of Reinheitsgebot
Emperor Otto II grants a brewing license with certain regulations to a brewer in Liege, part of the Kingdom of Germany (Germany was the largest kingdom of the Holy Roman Empire. The city of Liege is now part of Belgium).
Beer regulations created in Nuremberg
Beer regulations created in Erfurt
Beer regulations created in Weisensee
Beer regulations created in Munich
April 23 1516
The duchies of Bavaria are reunited and all the beer regulations of the duchies are amalgamated into Reinheitsgebot and adopted across Bavaria. These laws stated that only barley, hops and water could be used as ingredients in beer. Set a limit to the profits innkeepers could charge on beer. Penalty for “impure” beer…CONFISCATION.
Video: What is the German Beer Purity Law?
Coriander, bay leaf and wheat are added to the allowable ingredients.
Caraway, juniper, and salt were added to the list of permissible ingredients, which enabled Gose beer from Goslar, Germany to be considered Reinheitsgebot-friendly.
Dutch naturalist Anton van Leeuwenhoek microscopically observes yeast, but does not consider it to be a living organism, nor does he realize its role in fermentation.
Bavarian Prince Otto crowned 1st King of Greece and regulates Reinheitsgebot in Greece making it the only country outside of Germany to adopt the legislation.
Following up on van Leeuwenhoek’s experiments Louis Pasteur discovers yeast’s role in fermentation, but it is not added to the list of allowed ingredients.
Unification of Germany – Bavaria requests that the Reinheitsgebot be adopted by the entire country as a condition for entering the union.
Video: 500 Years of Reinheitsgebot
Bavarian Reinheitsgebot and the “Law Concerning Levying Brewing Tax” (Gesetz wegen Erhebung der Brausteuer) united to create the German Reinheitsgebot.
North Germany brewers don’t agree with the stipulations of the German Reinheitsgebot, so a compromise is reached and they are taxed on the use of other ingredients rather than having their beer confiscated.
Northern Germany finally adopts the German Reinheitsgebot, resulting in a beer market dominated by Pilsener styles. Disappearance of many local brewing traditions and local specialties like North German spiced beer and cherry beer. Other styles that survived besides Pilsen’s Pilsener were Kölner Kölsch and Düsseldorfer Altbier. An addendum is written allowing yeast to be in the list of ingredients.
Video: Centuries of Traditional German Beer
Rise of the new German Republic after WW1 called the Weimar Republic. Bavaria requests that their Reinheitsgebot again be adopted as law as a pre-condition for entering the union.
The German Reinheitsgebot is expanded to include West Germany’s Biersteuergesetz (Beer Taxation Laws)
French breweries take Germany to the European Court of Justice saying that the German Beer Purity Laws are protectionist and against the Treaty of Rome. Germany changes the rules and makes them apply only to German brewed beers, brewed for the German beer market and not imported beers or beers exported from Germany.
Reinheitsgebot are revised into the Vorläufiges Biergesetz. This expands the list of ingredients which can be used in beer and have it be categorized as bier. It also makes a distinction between top-fermented beers and bottom-fermented beers. Bottom-fermented beers can use: water, malted-barley, hops, yeast, powdered/ground hops, hops extracts and stabilizing agents like PVPP. Top-fermented beers can use all of the above as well as a variety of different malts and pure sugars.
German brewers who brew beer with ingredients not on the German Reinheitsgebot list are allowed to brew beer, but it cannot be labeled as bier. Only exception to this rule is Gluten-free beer which can still be labeled as bier, but this is a highly controversial decision.
German Brewers Association applies to get Reinheitsgebot on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (which includes music, festivals, art techniques and other similar things. For example: Tango for Argentina-Uruguay, Flamenco for Spain and Mariachi music of Mexico. Click on the link to see the full list), but the request is rejected.
Video: German Beer Producers
German Brewers Association reapplies to get Reinheitsgebot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Still waiting…
Reinheitsgebot’s 500th Birthday! Happy Birthday to the German Purity Law!
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