R is for Reinheitsgebot
Water. Barley. Hops.
You’ll often see the ingredient listed on a bottle of beer along with something like:
“Proudly brewed to the Reinheitsgebot.”
“Brewed to the German purity law.”
“Traditionally brewed with only three ingredients.”
What started as a measure to avoid price competition with other industries for wheat and rye has morphed into one of the most gimmicky marketing ploys in the industry today.
That’s right. The Reinheitsgebot was originally implemented by Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria in 1487 as an assurance that brewers wouldn’t use up all the grains needed for baking bread. By 1516, the law had spread to all of Baveria and would later extend to cover the entire nation.
During the unification of Germany in 1871, Reinheitsgebot implementation and enforcement on member states lead to the extinction of many local beer specialities – such as spiced beers and beers that included fruit. A few of these survived, but much of the market shifted to the pilsner style.
It actually wasn’t until a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 1987 that brewers outside of Germany were allowed to import their “non-compliant” beers.
When you ask a German brewer if the Reinheitsgebot still regulates how they make their beer, you’re likely to get a mix of responses. To some, there is a (misguided) sense that a centuries old tradition must be upheld in order to preserve the brewing heritage and, more importantly, the quality of the beer for which Germany has become world renowned.
I just don’t buy it.
Germans are known for making exceptional beer because of the skill and dedication of their brewers. Clinging to an ancient law does not guarantee an exceptional beer. There are plenty of beers produced in Germany and around the world that adhere to the Reinheitsgebot which are utter garbage.
The Reinheitsgebot, in my opinion, is dogmatic and used in its current from as marketing propaganda.
Besides, who wants to limit the imagination and creativity of brewers? Where would the craft beer revolution be with such guiding principles?
We brew in a space where any ingredient has the potential to make a mind blowing beer. Now you’ll have to excuse us while we go rack another beer and wine hybrid.