The ‘Reinheitsgebot’ (or German Beer Purity Law) of 1516 stipulates that German beer can only be brewed using four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast. In honour of its 500th anniversary, we have brought together a collection of interesting and curious beer facts.
“If only our air was as pure as our beer!”
(Richard von Weizsäcker, German politician and statesman)
500 years old and still 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 for some intriguing (and sometimes amusing) truths about the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage.
Adopted in 1516: The Bavarian Beer Purity Law
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. Also for the economical reason that bread was a main-staple food, and the Dukes wanted to avoid a price war between brewers and bakers, and thus they limited the production of beer to one type of grain, barley. The purity order initially covered the Duchy of Bavaria only, but they felt so strongly about it that nationwide adoption was one of Bavaria’s preconditions for the unification of Germany in 1871, against strong opposition from brewers outside that state. It became a nationwide law in 1906.
Monks improved beer production in the Middle Ages
Long ago, beer was mostly brewed at home. Bread was 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’s fairy tale ‘Rumpelstiltskin’: “Today I’ll bake, tomorrow I’ll brew, the next I’ll fetch the Queen’s new child…” During the Middle Ages, monks embraced beer making in their monasteries. Today, we still perceive their approach to the art as being very professional. They observed and scrutinized the individual beer production steps and, in doing so, gradually improved the beer brewing processes.
Beer Purity is enshrined in German law
The law states that, in accordance with the Beer Purity Law, only water malt, hops and yeast may be used as ingredients. Anyone in Germany brewing beer in accordance with the Beer Purity Law is producing a protected ‘traditional food’ and is not allowed to use adjuncts, neither natural nor artificial additives. 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.
No rule without exceptions: In Germany, ‘specialty 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 containing spices, such as aniseed, cinnamon or cloves, and fruits, such as oranges or cherries. The Beer Purity Law doesn’t apply to those who brew less than 53 gallons per year for private consumption. There are also exemptions for production intended solely for export markets.
Why do people say “cheers” and clink glasses?
When beer is served, it’s not uncommon to hear a round of “cheers” and clinking of glasses. How did this ritual take hold? One suggestion seems like something straight out of GAME OF THRONES: In the olden days, clinking glasses 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 it 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, uhm… cheerful. Omitting it altogether and merely giving a friendly nod after your first sip is perfectly acceptable and most likely won’t put your life in danger.
Hops for bittering and preservation; optimum serving temperature
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 pasteurized – except for the non-alcoholic malt beers and beer-based shandies that, due to their sugar content, are pasteurized to prevent fermentation. By the way: The optimum drinking temperature for German beers is 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.
Beer does not cause a ‘beer belly’
Nope, beer is not the culprit and definitely not to blame for the development of a ‘beer belly’. Rather, its components conspire to stimulate your appetite. If you 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
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). 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.
Of course, German beer is so pure and good for you, it is considered by many to be a nutritious food item! While individual rules and restrictions exist, many employees will enjoy a small beer with their lunch break and that is completely acceptable.
The Egyptians were drinking beer when they built the pyramids
The workers who built the pyramids in ancient Egypt were paid 1 gallon 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?!
What do you call the fear of an empty beer glass?
Cenasillicaphobia, the fear of an empty glass, is real because it has a scientific name. Right? Well, as every beer drinker knows, this can be avoided. “Bartender…!” ?
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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*Enjoy beer responsibly and only if you are 21 years of age or over.