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The Reinheitsgebot (German pronunciation: [ˈʁaɪnhaɪtsɡəboːt] , literally "purity order") is a series of regulations limiting the ingredients in beer in Germany and the states of the former Holy Roman Empire. The best known version of the law was adopted in Bavaria in 1516 (by William IV), but similar regulations predate the Bavarian order, and modern regulations also significantly differ from the 1516 Bavarian version. Although today the Reinheitsgebot is mentioned in various texts about the history of beer, historically it was only applied in the duchy, electorate, then Kingdom of Bavaria and from 1906 in Germany as a whole, and it had little or no effect in other countries or regions.

1516 Bavarian law[edit]

The most influential predecessor of the modern Reinheitsgebot was a law first adopted in the Duchy of Bavaria-Munich in 1487. After Bavaria was reunited, the Munich law was adopted across the entirety of Bavaria on 23 April 1516.[1] As Germany unified, Bavaria pushed for adoption of this law on a national basis (see Broader adoption).

Ingredients permitted[edit]

A field of barley

According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops.[2] The text does not mention yeast as an ingredient, although yeast was at the time knowingly used in the brewing process. It is likely that brewers of the time preferred to see yeast as a fixture of the brewing process. Yeast produced in one batch was commonly transferred to a subsequent batch, thus giving yeast a more permanent character in the brewing process. A full understanding of the chemical basis of yeast and the fermentation process did not come until much later.

Other regulations[edit]

The 1516 Bavarian law set the price of beer (depending on the time of year and type of beer), limited the profits made by innkeepers, and made confiscation the penalty for making impure beer.


The text (translated) of the 1516 Bavarian law is as follows:

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [1,069ml] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller usually equals one-half Pfennig].

If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass.

Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, market-towns and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities' confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or market-towns buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass or the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley (also considering that the times of harvest differ, due to location), WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned.

— Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516 (emphasis added), Eden, Karl J. (1993). "History of German Brewing". Zymurgy. 16 (4).

Purpose, significance, and effect[edit]


The Bavarian order of 1516 was introduced in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains to barley was meant to ensure the availability of affordable bread, as wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers.[3] The rule may have also had a protectionist role, as beers from Northern Germany often contained additives that could not be grown in Bavaria.[4]

Religious conservatism may have also played a role in adoption of the rule in Bavaria, to suppress the use of plants that were allegedly used in pagan rituals, such as gruit, henbane, belladonna, or wormwood.[5][6]: 410–411  The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as soot, stinging nettle and henbane.[7]

Significance and continuity[edit]

While some sources refer to the Bavarian law of 1516 as the first law regulating food safety,[1] this is inaccurate, as earlier food safety regulations can be traced back as far as ancient Rome.[8] Similarly, some sources claim that the law has been essentially unchanged since its adoption, but as early as the mid-1500s Bavaria began to allow ingredients such as coriander, bay leaf, and wheat.[9][10] Yeast was also added to modern versions of the law after the discovery of its role in fermentation.

The Reinheitsgebot remains the most famous law that regulates the brewing of beer,[11] and continues to influence brewing not only in Germany, but around the world.[12]

Effect on beer diversity in Germany[edit]

Modern versions of the law have contained significant exceptions for different types of beer (such as top-fermented beers), for export beers, and for different regions. The basic law now declares that only malted grains, hops, water and yeast are permitted.[13] Reinheitsgebot strictly forbids the use of extenders such as rice and other grains favored by American brewers to give a lighter taste as well as being less expensive to brew.

In response to the growth of craft breweries globally, some commentators,[6]: 122 [14] German brewers,[15] and even German politicians[16] have argued that the Reinheitsgebot has slowed Germany's adoption of beer trends popular in the rest of the world, such as Belgian lambics and American craft styles. In late 2015, Bavarian brewers voted in favor of a revision to the beer laws to allow other natural ingredients.[10] Many brewers still follow the original 1516 purity law as it is considered to be a part of the national identity.


Until the mid-20th century, the Reinheitsgebot was relatively unknown and applied unevenly across Germany.[17] In the mid-20th century, Bavarian brewers rallied around the Reinheitsgebot to protect themselves against competition amid European market integration.[18]


Sign celebrating the 1487 Munich Reinheitsgebot

The earliest documented mention of beer by a German nobleman is the granting of a brewing licence by Emperor Otto II to the church at Liege (now Belgium), awarded in 974.[19] A variety of other beer regulations also existed in Germany during the late Middle Ages, including in Nuremberg in 1293, Erfurt in 1351, and Weißensee in 1434.[20][21]

Broader adoption[edit]

The Bavarian order of 1516 formed the basis of rules that spread slowly throughout Germany. Bavaria insisted on its application throughout Germany as a precondition of German unification in 1871. The move encountered strong resistance from brewers outside Bavaria, and imperial law of 1873 taxed the use of other ingredients (rather than banning them) when used by Northern German brewers.[6] It was not until 1906 that the law was applied consistently across all of Germany,[6] and it was not formally referred to as Reinheitsgebot until the Weimar Republic.[22]

In 1952, the basic regulations of the Reinheitsgebot were incorporated into the West German Biersteuergesetz (Beer Taxation Law). Bavarian law remained stricter than that of the rest of the country, leading to legal conflict during the 1950s and early 1960s.[22] The law initially applied only to bottom-fermented ("lager") beers, but brewers of other types of beer soon accepted the law as well.

Outside of Germany, the Reinheitsgebot was formally incorporated in Greek law by the first Greek king, Otto (originally a Bavarian prince).[23] German brewers at the Tsingtao Brewery in the German colony in Qingdao, China also followed the law voluntarily.[24]

Modern changes[edit]

In March 1987 French brewers sued and, in the case of Commission v Germany (C-178/84), the European Court of Justice found that the Reinheitsgebot was protectionist, and therefore in violation of Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome.[22][23][25] This ruling concerned only imported beer, so Germany chose to continue to apply the law to beer brewed in Germany.[22] (Greece's version of the Reinheitsgebot was struck down around the same time.[22]) General food safety and labeling laws may also apply.

After German reunification in 1990 the Neuzeller Kloster Brewery, a former monastery brewery in the East German town of Neuzelle, Brandenburg, was warned to stop selling its black beer as it contained sugar. After some negotiations the brewery was allowed to sell it under the name Schwarzer Abt ("Black Abbot") but could not label it "Bier". This decision was repealed by the Federal Administrative Court of Germany through a special permit, and after legal disputes lasting ten years (known as the "Brandenburg Beer War") Neuzeller Kloster Brewery gained the right to call Schwarzer Abt "Bier" again.[22]

The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany. In addition, the law allows the use of powdered or ground hops and hop extracts, as well as stabilization and fining agents such as PVPP. Top-fermented beer is subject to the same rules, with the addition that a wider variety of malted grains can be used, as well as pure sugars for flavor and coloring.[26]

The law's applicability was further limited by a court ruling in 2005, which allowed the sale of beer with different ingredients as long as it was not labeled "beer".[27] The law thus became a labeling standard.

Exceptions to the current rules can be sought, and have been granted to allow gluten-free beer to be labeled as beer despite the use of different ingredients.[16]

Use in beer marketing[edit]

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

Because of strong German consumer preferences, labeling beer as being compliant with Reinheitsgebot is believed to be a valuable marketing tool in Germany.[22] German brewers have used the law to market German beer internationally, including a failed attempt to have the law added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritages.[28][29] Breweries in Norway often follow the same rules as in the Reinheitsgebot. Some breweries outside Germany also claim to be compliant to the Reinheitsgebot as part of their marketing,[30][31][32] such as:

For some vegans the Reinheitsgebot can be seen as a strong indication that the beer marked as such is vegan.[35] This is in absence of legislation in the UK and elsewhere which require beers to be labelled with all their ingredients and nutritional information.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gaab, Jeffrey S. (2006). Munich: Hofbräuhaus & History: Beer, Culture, & Politics. Peter Lang. p. 10. ISBN 9780820486062.
  2. ^ "Was ist das Reinheitsgebot von 1516? – Private Brauereien Bayern e. V." www.private-brauereien.de. Archived from the original on 23 May 2019. Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  3. ^ Mason, Betsy (23 April 2010). "April 23, 1516: Bavaria Cracks Down on Beer Brewers". Wired. Retrieved 5 September 2015. While barley is not very digestible and consequently does not make for good eating, grains like wheat and rye are great for bread. The Bavarian leadership wanted to head off competition for those grains, in order to keep the price of food down.
  4. ^ Barlösius, Eva (1999). Soziologie des Essens: eine sozial- und kulturwissenschaftliche Einführung in die Ernährungsforschung (in German). Juventa. p. 213. ISBN 9783779914648.
  5. ^ Rätsch, Christian (1998). Enzyklopädie der psychoaktiven Pflanzen: Botanik, Ethnopharmakologie und Anwendung (in German). AT Verlag. p. 733. ISBN 9783855025701.
  6. ^ a b c d Oliver, Garrett (9 September 2011). The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 392. ISBN 9780195367133.
  7. ^ Christian Rätsch (29 July 2015). "Urbock oder echtes Bier" (in German). Retrieved 26 August 2015. Diese ehemaligen Anpflanzungen leben in verschiedenen Ortbezeichnungen bis heute fort, z.B. Bilsensee, Billendorf, Bilsengarten und vor allem im böhmischen Pilsen. So hat die Stadt, nach der unser modernes, stark gehopftes Bier "Pilsner" heißt, seinen Namen selbst vom Bilsenkraut, das dem echten "Pilsener Bier", nämlich dem Bilsenkraut-Bier seinen Namen verlieh! In der Schweiz lebt der alte Name pilsener krut in der Bezeichnung Pilsenkraut bis heute fort.
  8. ^ Albala, Ken (2015). The Sage Encyclopedia of Food Issues. Sage Publications. p. 1488. ISBN 9781506317304.
  9. ^ Karin Hackel-Stehr: Das Brauwesen in Bayern vom 14. bis 16. Jahrhundert, insbesondere die Entstehung und Entwicklung des Reinheitsgebotes (1516). Dissertation. Berlin 1987, pp. 2450, 2472.
  10. ^ a b Klawitter, Nils (21 April 2016). "Attacking Beer Purity: The Twilight of Germany's Reinheitsgebot". Spiegel Online. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  11. ^ Alworth, Jeff (1 March 2016). "Attempting to Understand the Reinheitsgebot". All About Beer. Vol. 37, no. 1. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  12. ^ Kell, John (23 April 2016). "How this 500-year-old law shaped the global beer industry". Fortune. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  13. ^ "German beer: 500 years of 'Reinheitsgebot' rules". BBC News. 22 April 2016.
  14. ^ DeBenedetti, Christian (2 March 2011). "Brauereisterben: The sad state of German beer culture". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  15. ^ Thaler, Claudia (1 December 2014). "Mikro-Bierbrauer und das deutsche Reinheitsgebot". Welt Online. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  16. ^ a b Dumke, Holger (2 September 2015). "NRW-Regierung rüttelt nicht am Reinheitsgebot für Bier". WAZ (in German). Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  17. ^ Terrell, Robert Shea (18 January 2023). "Entanglements of Scale: The Beer Purity Law from Bavarian Oddity to German Icon, 1906–1975". Contemporary European History: 1–15. doi:10.1017/S096077732200087X. ISSN 0960-7773. S2CID 256077412.
  18. ^ Terrell, Robert Shea (2023). "Entanglements of Scale: The Beer Purity Law from Bavarian Oddity to German Icon, 1906–1975". Contemporary European History: 1–15. doi:10.1017/S096077732200087X. ISSN 0960-7773. S2CID 256077412.
  19. ^ Porst. In: Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde. Band 23, ISBN 3-11-017535-5, S. 287 ff.
  20. ^ "German Beer History". German Beer Institute. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  21. ^ Pohle. "Reinheitsgebot 1434". www.weissenseer-reinheitsgebot.de. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Swinnen, Johan F. M. (27 October 2011). The Economics of Beer. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191505010.
  23. ^ a b Glenny, Misha (25 September 1986). "Last orders for Reinheitsgebot". New Scientist.
  24. ^ von Lüpke-Schwarz, Marc (19 August 2013). "Tsingtao und das deutsche Bier". Deutsche Welle (in German). Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  25. ^ "Judgment of the Court of 12 March 1987. – Commission of the European Communities v Federal Republic of Germany. – Failure of a State to fulfil its obligations – Purity requirement for beer. – Case 178/84". eur-lex.europa.eu. Retrieved 23 April 2020.
  26. ^ "Bundesgesetzblatt 1993 Teil I Seite 1400". Law Web Saarbrücken (in German). Institut für Rechtsinformatik, Universität des Saarlandes. Archived from the original on 7 August 2011. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  27. ^ Buse, Patrick (23 April 2015). "499 Jahre deutsches Reinheitsgebot". Legal Tribune Online. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  28. ^ "Push Brews in Germany To Add Beer To United Nations' Cultural Heritage List". WSJ Blogs – Speakeasy. 11 December 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  29. ^ "Interview Christoph Wulf zu Aufnahmen Immaterielles Kulturerbe". Unesco.de. 1 December 2014. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  30. ^ "Company History". Gordon Biersch. Archived from the original on 26 August 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  31. ^ Mager, Anne Kelk (2010). Beer, Sociability, and Masculinity in South Africa. Indiana University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0253354495.
  32. ^ "Where to Find Exceptional Craft Beer in Waterloo Region". 17 May 2017.
  33. ^ "Schulz Bräu website". Retrieved 28 November 2023.
  34. ^ Geiselhart, Von Brigitte (18 April 2020). "Mit Bier durch die Krise". Badische Zeitung. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  35. ^ Joey, Vegan (5 October 2021). "Vegan lager? Is lager vegan? how to tell if a lager is vegan – Vegans 247". Archived from the original on 11 November 2021. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  36. ^ Young, Jay. "Alcohol Labelling Requirements Explained | Premier Labels". www.premierlabels.uk.com. Retrieved 11 November 2021.

Further reading[edit]