Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law)

When I think of beer, Germany is not far from my mind.  Lederhosen, large chested bavarian girls hefting steins to and fro, enjoying their sauerkraut and brautwurst, happen to be just a few things that pop into my head when beer and Germany are uttered in the same sentence.  What usually does not present it's self into my train of thought was the age old Reinheitsgebot.  For everyone out there that does not know what this is (don't worry I did not know either until I started to really read up on beer and it's history), Reinheitsgebot, or better known as the German Beer Purity Law, was a law passed in the city of Ingolstadt in the duchy of Bavaria on April 23, 1516.  What the law stated was that only water, barley and hops could be used in the production of beer.  The law also controlled the price of beer.
This was not a decision made because they were looking to create a superior Aryan beverage (they tried that later on, in the 1930'sand 1940's with people, but that did not work out so well either). On the contrary, valuable wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers, thus there was no competition between Brewers and Bakers over wheat and rye, which would keep the wheat and rye prices at a reasonable level. Barley was a much cheaper, so this is what the brewers were allowed to use.   
I noticed that yeast did not make the cut for making a pure beer, and I thought to my self; how do you make beer without yeast?  Well, the answer is, you don't.  What the brewers did not know was that yeast was at work in their beer. They would either set up vats of their beer and it would catch natural yeast in the air, or if sediment was available from an earlier batch, they would add that to the brew, adding our little micro-organisms without ever knowing it.
The Reinheitsgebot is no longer a stated law but many beer companies still market their beer as Reinheitsgebot Pure.

I shudder to think of all the amazing micro and craft beer that we would miss out on if the Reinheitsgebot followed beer to every corner of the globe.  Other than an interesting piece of history, I think we are better off letting our desire to push boundaries and using our imaginations to guide us to more interesting brews. 

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