Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram
 

The Reinheitsgebot: The Beer Purity Law of 1516 is still in force in Germany today

Tijana Radeska
Bavarian law
Bavarian law

The Reinheitsgebot is the oldest law in the world that is still in force. It regulates the production of beer in Germany.
Beer was a traditional drink from Bavaria and many people were brewing it.

There was a competition not only among beer brewers but also a price competition with bakers for wheat and rye.

Stamp celebrating the history of the Reinheitsgebot

Stamp celebrating the history of the Reinheitsgebot

So the German beer Purity Law of 1516 limited the beer to barley, hops and water, excluding wheat and rye.

Also, due to religious conservatism, many plants that were used both for making beer and in pagan rituals were forbidden under the new law.

This included plants such as soot, stinging nettles, and henbane.

 

 

Barley

Barley

Even though it is quite often stated that the Bavarian law of 1516 is the first law that regulated food safety, that is incorrect.

First of all, the Bavarian law itself has its predecessor which was adopted in Munich in 1487 and the same one was applied as a state law after Bavaria was reunited. Secondly, even that one is not the oldest one; there are food safety regulations dating back to ancient Rome.

Continue to page 2

As people argue till today, the law also limited and destroyed the taste of beer. And yet, many people celebrate the Purity Law annually. However, there are “beer activists” around Germany, and abroad, who claim that the law was introduced exclusively as a taxation law.

Sign celebrating the 1487 Munich Reinheitsgebot. Photo credit

Sign celebrating the 1487 Munich Reinheitsgebot. Photo credit

Many authentic beers went extinct and many beer traditions destroyed. Suddenly. the German beer market was dominated by the pilsener type while beers such as the North German spiced beer and cherry beer were consigned history.

Only a few local beer varieties, such as Kölner Kölsch, Gosler Gose, or Düsseldorfer Altbier, survived the implementation of the law.

Gaffel Kölsch since 1396. Photo credit

Gaffel Kölsch since 1396. Photo credit

 

Traditional gose beer bottle produced in Leipzig, Germany. Photo credit

Traditional gose beer bottle produced in Leipzig, Germany. Photo credit

 

Schumacher Alt, a style of beer brewed in the historical region of Westphalia and around the city of Düsseldorf. Photo credit

Schumacher Alt, a style of beer brewed in the historical region of Westphalia and around the city of Düsseldorf. Photo credit

The law spread across Germany with the German unification in 1871. And since many brewers outside Bavaria were revolted and didn’t accept the law, there was a taxation on the ingredients that they used.

It took the law many years until it was finally accepted by the North German brewers in 1906.

Some German brewers continue to use the word "Reinheitsgebot" in labeling and marketing.

Some German brewers continue to use the word “Reinheitsgebot” in labeling and marketing.

The basic law now declares that only malted grains, hops, water, and yeast are permitted. Unfortunately for beer lovers, the law has gotten more rigorous in recent time.

For example, the Neuzeller Kloster Brewery, a former monastery brewery in East Germany had been forbidden to sale its traditional black beer because it contained sugar. They needed to fight with the law until they were somehow approved a special permit to brew their beer again.

Another article from our Beer files: Jack, the chacma baboon who was employed as a signalman by a railroad and was paid in money and beer

But, since 2005 the law permits any other ingredients than malted grains, hops, water and yeast as long as the drink is not labeled as beer.