The Reinheitsgebot (literally “Purity Law”) is the colloquial name for a measure implemented in several European countries in the 16th century that restricts the use of certain ingredients in beer. The original Reinheitsgebot only permitted the use of three ingredients: water, malted barley, and hops. The intention was to limit the availability of ingredients used to make beer, which was frequently adulterated with additives to make it cheaper or increase its alcohol content. In Germany alone, there are currently more than 1,300 breweries and microbreweries. This has much to do with the Reinheitsgebot, which is credited with being responsible for keeping German beer pure and giving rise to many local breweries. But how exactly does this work? Keep reading for an explanation of what the Reinheetsgebot is and its many implications today…
What Does the German Beer Purity Law Require?
The key points of the German Beer Purity Law are that breweries may only use water, barley, and hops to make beer. They may not alter beer in any way, including adding coloring or filtering it. Adjuncts, like corn or rice syrup, which are commonly used in American lagers, are not permitted under the Reinheitsgebot. Neither are sugars made from corn, barley, or wheat. The Reinheitsgebot also prohibits the use of artificial or synthetic ingredients, such as soy or corn-based proteins or chemical preservatives to extend the shelf life of beer. Finally, the German Beer Purity Law requires that beer be made with top-fermenting yeast. It is not permitted to use bottom fermenting yeast, which is used in making wine.
Reinheitsgebot and its Implications
To put it simply, beer brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot has a completely natural composition. When these German beer purity laws were first implemented, their main objective was to prevent adulteration of beer with additives and impurities such as sand or ash, which were often used to increase profits. While the Reinheitsgebot is sometimes derided as a “back to basics” approach to brewing, it actually has a lot of benefits that extend beyond its simplicity. For example, the German beer purity law’s focus on quality over quantity has led breweries to produce smaller batches of high-quality beer that’s often brewed with locally sourced ingredients. This is in stark contrast to lager brewing in the U.S., where large-scale beer-making operations have been the norm since the late 19th century. While German beer purity laws may seem restrictive to some, they actually encourage creativity and experimentation among brewers.
How Is German Beer Made Under the Reinheitsgebot?
The entire process of brewing German beer begins with selecting the right ingredients. Brewers that follow the German beer purity law use only top-quality barley malt and pure water to brew their beer. The barley malt is heated in a process known as “malting” in order to release its natural sugars. Next, the malt is steeped in water to make a “wort” (sugar-rich liquid). This is where the hops are added. The wort is then transferred to the “fermenting vessel” and cooled down to a temperature that is ideal for yeast to grow. Once the yeast has done its work and turned the sugar into alcohol, the beer is transferred to the “maturation vessel” to rest until it’s ready to be packaged and served.
Pros of the Reinheitsgebot
– Reinheitsgebot celebrates the art of brewing
– The German beer purity law’s simplicity encourages brewers to focus on the art of brewing rather than the science of brewing. This means that German breweries have a strong culture of experimentation, which is reflected in the variety of beer styles that are brewed in Germany.
– Reinheitsgebot is environmentally friendly
– Unlike American breweries, which use as many as 10 ingredients to make beer, German breweries only use three ingredients in their beer. As a result, German breweries are not only more traditional and authentic but also more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
– Reinheitsgebot leads to better beer
– Brewing beer with fewer ingredients means that brewers can use only the best-quality ingredients. This in turn leads to better-tasting beer that is brewed in accordance with the German beer purity law.
– Reinheitsgebot has a long history: brewing beer with the Reinheitsgebot has been around for centuries. The German beer purity law was first enacted in Bavaria in the year 1516, making it one of the oldest food laws in the world.
Cons of the Reinheitsgebot
– Reinheitsgebot makes German beer more expensive: the German beer purity law requires the use of top-quality barley malt, pure water, and top-fermenting yeast during the brewing process. All these ingredients add up and drive up the price of beer, making it more expensive.
– Reinheitsgebot might use less sustainable ingredients: when beer is brewed with more than three ingredients, the use of less sustainable ingredients, such as corn and rice syrups, is allowed. This is not the case when brewing beer in accordance with the German beer purity law.
– German beer brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot has a very particular taste might not go well with many foods.
Final Words: Should You Celebrate or Commiserate?
German beer brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot is often cited as one of the best in the world. However, its taste may not be to everyone’s liking and its high price makes it out of reach for many people. However, the good news is that many modern German breweries have come up with new varieties of beer that are in line with the German beer purity law, but also taste better than ever before. These new beers are often brewed in small batches using natural and sustainable ingredients, thus following the German beer purity law while improving on the taste and experience of drinking beer. So, as long as you are open to tasting different kinds of beer, there’s no reason to commiserate about the German beer purity law while you travel to Europe or within the USA.