Keeping It Clean: Germany’s Beer Purity Law

In the past decade the United States has made great progress towards creating higher standards for consumer products. However, Germany began this process 495 years ago when the Bavarian government enacted Reinheitsgebot or “Bavarian Purity Law.” This law ensured the safety of the public when it came to the consumption and production of beer, as well as price regulation.

In the year 1516 the Bavarian government decreed, “in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer.” They provided several articles within the law to give detailed descriptions of the expectations and repercussions if these expectations were not met. The law includes all beer vendors of every possible background. Not only is the price of beer fixed to a certain amount, there is also a firm requirement placed on which ingredients can be used to produce beer. When brewing beer the only ingredients “must be barley, hops, and water.” (Since at the time no one knew that it was yeast that caused fermentation, this essential ingredient was left off the list.)

When the Bavarian government created this law they meant business. They warned, “whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the court of authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.” They were not willing to allow transgressors to have second chances. Although this may seem harsh, the rigidity of the beer purity law has allowed it to showcase Germany’s craftsmanship and recognition of the importance of quality that remain in place in present day.

When Bavaria and other provinces were combined to create a unified Germany, the Bavarian government demanded that all of Germany abide by Reinheitsgebot. Germany adopted the purity law, and the whole country was expected to adhere to it. However, in 1993 the Provisional German Beer Law took over, which allows the inclusion of yeast, wheat malt, and cane sugar in the brewing process. It also has taken out the use of unmalted barley. There are plenty of brewers who still recognize the Reinheitsgebot even though it has been abolished as a federal law, and take pride in brewing by its original ingredients.

Those who consume German beer will notice its top-notch quality and tastefulness. Reinheitsgebot not only changed the way beer was produced, but it also increased the expectations of consumers, who continue to challenge the potential of beer in hopes for the best quality possible in the brewing process.

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