Believe me, the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ (or German Beer Purity Law) of 1516 is a matter of great import for beer enthusiasts worldwide! The law stipulates that German beer can only be brewed using four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. And, in honour of its 500th anniversary (on April 23rd), we have brought together a collection of 15, er… 16 rather interesting and curious beer facts to whet your appetite!
“If only our air was as pure as our beer!”
(Richard von Weizsäcker, German politician and statesman)
Wow, 500 years old and still contemporary and going strong! There are few things in life that always remain relevant, that never become obsolete or go out of style regardless of the passage of time, and the German Beer Purity Law of 1516 is one of them. Today we are celebrating the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ by taking a look at some interesting and curious beer facts. Read on and be surprised by some intriguing (and sometimes amusing) truths about the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage.
Adopted in 1516: the Beer Purity Law
1. Introduced by Dukes Wilhelm IV and Ludwig X, within the context of the provincial system, the German Beer Purity Law was adopted on 23rd April 1516 in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. It was imposed as a state regulation to improve the quality of the beer, which at that time was an important constituent of the population’s daily diet. It was initially a purity order for the Duchy of Bavaria but, after its enactment, was adopted by more and more states until, in 1906, it became law across the whole of Germany.
Monks improved beer production in the Middle Ages
2. Long ago, beer was mostly brewed at home. Bread was usually made on one day and then an incompletely baked loaf was taken as the starting culture for brewing beer on the next day. Mixed with water, the fermentation processes would begin with yeasts and microorganisms present in the surrounding air. This household routine is probably referenced in the Brothers Grimm fairytale ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, in the line: “Today I’ll brew, tomorrow I’ll bake, then from the Queen, her daughter I’ll take.” During the Middle Ages, monks embraced beer making in their monasteries and, even today, we still perceive their approach to the art as being a very professional. They observed and scrutinised the individual beer production steps and, in doing so, gradually improved the beer brewing processes.
The Beer Purity Law is enshrined in law
3. What we know as the Beer Purity Law is today legally enshrined in the German ‘Provisional Beer Law’ in conjunction with the ‘Authorised Additives Ordinance’. The law states that, in accordance with the Beer Purity Law, only water malt, hops and yeast may be used. Anyone in Germany brewing beer in accordance with the Beer Purity Law is producing a protected ‘traditional food’ and is not allowed to use the E number additives (mostly artificial) that are permitted for brewing within the EU. The authorities in the individual German states are responsible for supervising the statutory regulations, just as they are for all other foods and luxury consumables.
Scientifically proven: beer does not make men’s breasts grow!
4. Hops contain trace levels of substances called phytoestrogens, which are chemicals that work in a similar way to hormones. Since the amount of hops within beer is insufficient for there to be any corresponding effect, these phytoestrogens have no consequential influence on the human body. The assertion that beer contains female hormones (estrogens) that can make men’s breasts grow has been scientifically refuted many, many times.
Beer brewing using additives is sometimes permitted
5. There are no rules without exceptions and, when it comes to the Beer Purity Law, this is also true. In Germany, ‘speciality beers’ that do not conform to the specifications of the Beer Purity Law may also be brewed; this ruling applies to all German states, with the exception of Bavaria. It allows brewers to produce beers that contain spices, such as aniseed, cinnamon or cloves, and fruits, such as oranges or cherries. And, the Beer Purity Law doesn’t apply to those who brew less than 200 litres of beer per year for private consumption.
Why do people toast “cheers” and clink glasses?
6. When beer is served, it’s not uncommon hear a round of “cheers” and the clinking of glasses. But how did this ritual take hold? Explanations abound and one suggestion is that, in ancient times, clinking arose to protect people’s lives! In the Middle Ages, the hearty clinking of robust beer tankards supposedly established that their contents had not been poisoned; the assumption being that the merry clonking of tankards against each other would lead to beer spilling from one vessel into the other – it was a way of insuring that your drinking companions weren’t harbouring evil intentions and trying to kill you off! Nowadays, the ritual is far more genial and it’s perfectly acceptable to omit it altogether and merely give a friendly nod after your first sip.
“The hops and malt are lost!”
7. There’s an old German saying: “Hopfen und Malz ist verloren” (“The hops and malt are lost”), which means that something no longer has any purpose and that further effort will be in vain. In days gone by, beer was often brewed in the home and, if something went wrong with the process, the two most important ingredients – the hops and the malt – couldn’t be saved: they were ‘lost’.
Hops for bittering and preservation; optimum serving temperature
8. Hops, and their associated tannins and bitter compounds, don’t only give beer its characteristic taste; they also have an important preservative effect. During the Middle Ages, beers that were barrelled and taken on voyages upon the high seas were brewed with more hops in order to prolong their life. The preservative effect of hops is important because German beers are rarely pasteurised – except for the non-alcoholic malt beers and beer-based shandies that, due to their sugar content, are pasteurised as a precautionary measure to prevent fermentation. By the way: the optimum drinking temperature for German beers lies between 7 °C and 9 °C, although for some beer varieties it is between 10 °C and 12 °C. At these temperatures, German beers unfold their full aroma and taste at their best.
What does the German saying “Sell something like a sour beer” mean?
9. The German saying “Etwas anbieten wie Sauerbier” (“Sell something like a sour beer”) essentially means to sell a worthless product by whatever means and for whatever price you can get for it. In the past, it was not uncommon for beer to spoil and turn sour before it could be consumed. And, in order to keep financial losses to a minimum, people would try to off-load their aging beer using all kinds of tricks and dodgy practices.
The Czechs are Europe’s biggest beer drinkers
10. The Czechs have the largest consumption of beer per head of population in Europe, at around 144 litres per year. Hot on their heels are: Germany (107 litres), Austria (104 litres), and Poland (98 litres).
Beer does not cause a ‘beer belly’
11. As a general rule, beer is not to blame for the development of a ‘beer belly’. Rather, its components – its hops, malt and alcohol – combine to stimulate the appetite. If drinking beer leads you to eat fatty foods more often, all those excess calories might mean that you acquire a ‘beer belly’. The rule is: Beer doesn’t make you fat – but it might well give you an appetite!
Beer contains vitamins
12. Did you know that, because of its ingredients and the fermentation processes, beer contains a host of minerals and vitamins? Beer contains vitamins B1, B2 and B6 and B7 (biotin) and, according to current scientific opinion, B vitamins help to improve concentration, support the formation of red blood cells, have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, stimulate the metabolism, and help the nervous system to function properly.
The Egyptians were drinking beer when they built the pyramids!
13. Apparently, an American archaeologist has determined that the builders of the pyramids in ancient Egypt drank around 4 litres of beer every day! It was evidently healthier than drinking dirty water from the Nile, but obviously must have meant that the men often worked slightly tipsy! Who knows?!
Carbon dioxide creates the beer foam
14. The formation of a frothy head on a beer is a natural process: during fermentation, the yeast changes the malt sugars in the beer wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. When you pour beer into a glass, the carbon dioxide is released to create the foam.
What makes the perfect beer head?
15. Perfect beer foam if formed on a cold beer at 6-8ºC; if beer is too cold it doesn’t make enough foam and, if it is too warm, it makes too much! If you like to enjoy your beer with a perfect head then please take note of the following:
• It’s important that beer glasses are absolutely clean and free from grease. Fat residues in a beer glass have a direct effect on the surface tension of the carbon dioxide bubbles that make up the beer’s head. The more fat there is in a beer glass, the weaker the tiny carbon dioxide bubbles will be – the foam won’t grow to any size and will collapse after only a short time.
• When handling glasses make sure your fingers do not touch the inside surface. Every fingerprint contains tiny amounts of fat, which contaminate the beer glass. Glasses should always be cleaned using hot water and a grease dissolving detergent. After washing it is imperative that the detergent is rinsed away using clear, cold water, because detergent has the same detrimental effect on beer that fat has.
What do you call the fear of an empty beer glass?
16. It’s not a joke – the fear of having an empty beer glass is called cenasillicaphobia! However, as every beer drinker knows, this can be avoided… Barman…!
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So, let’s all raise a glass to the German Beer Purity Law on its 500th anniversary. May you enjoy a fitting celebration and, in closing, let’s remember the words of American statesman, Benjamin Franklin:
“Beer is the decisive proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
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