The Reinheitsgebot (German pronunciation: [ˈʁaɪnhaɪtsɡəboːt] ( listen), literally "purity order"), sometimes called the "German Beer Purity Law" in English, is a regulation concerning the production of beer in the Holy Roman Empire and its successor state, Germany. In the original text, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops.
The law originated on 30 November 1487, when Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria promulgated it, specifying three ingredients – water, malt and hops – for the brewing of beer. Later, in the city of Ingolstadt in the duchy of Bavaria on 23 April 1516, two other dukes, including Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria, endorsed the law as one to be followed in their duchies, adding standards for the sale of beer.
In the original text, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. The law also set the price of beer at 1–2 Pfennig per Maß. The Reinheitsgebot is no longer part of German law: it was replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law in 1993, which allows constituent components prohibited in the Reinheitsgebot, such as yeast, wheat malt and cane sugar, but which no longer allows unmalted barley.
No yeast was mentioned in the original text. It was not until the 19th century that Louis Pasteur discovered the role of microorganisms in fermentation; previously, yeast was not known to be an ingredient of beer. Brewers generally took some sediment from the previous fermentation and added it to the next, the sediment generally containing the necessary organisms to perform fermentation. If none were available, they would set up several vats, relying on natural airborne yeast to inoculate the brew.
Hops are added to beer to impart flavors but also act as a preservative, and their mention in the Reinheitsgebot was meant to prevent alternative methods of preserving beer that had been used before the introduction of hops. Medieval brewers had used many problematic ingredients to preserve beers, including soot. More commonly, other "gruit" herbs had been used, such as stinging nettle and henbane. The German name of the latter, Bilsenkraut, may originally mean "Plzeň herb", indicating that this region was a major center of beer brewing long before the invention of (Reinheitsgebot-compliant) Pilsener.
The penalty for making impure beer was also set in the Reinheitsgebot: a brewer using other ingredients for his beer could have questionable barrels confiscated with no compensation.
German breweries are very proud of the Reinheitsgebot, and many claim still to abide by it. Some breweries in areas with a historical connection to Germany, such as Namibia Breweries Limited, also claim to be compliant to the Reinheitsgebot.
The Reinheitsgebot 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 the more valuable wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers. Today many Bavarian beers are again brewed using wheat and are thus no longer compliant with the Reinheitsgebot.
The Reinheitsgebot formed the basis of legislation that spread slowly throughout Bavaria and Germany. Bavaria insisted on its application throughout Germany as a precondition of German unification in 1871, to prevent competition from beers brewed elsewhere with a wider range of ingredients. The move encountered strong resistance from brewers outside Bavaria. By restricting the allowable ingredients, it led to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the domination of the German beer market by pilsener style beers. Only a few regional beer varieties, such as Kölner Kölsch or Düsseldorfer Altbier, survived its implementation.
Regulations similar to the Reinheitsgebot were incorporated into various guild regulations and local laws all over Germany, and in 1952, they were incorporated into the West German Biersteuergesetz (Beer Taxation Law). Many brewers objected to the law at the time, disagreeing more with the amount of the tax than the ingredient requirements. The law initially applied only to bottom-fermented ("lager") beers, but brewers of other types of beer soon accepted the law as well.
In May 1988, a European Court of Justice ruling led to the Reinheitsgebot being lifted, allowing ingredients beyond what was listed in the Biersteuergesetz; this meant that anything allowed in other foods was also allowed in beer. The lifting of the Biergesetz only concerns imported beer. Beer brewed in Germany still must follow the law.
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.
The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993 is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer. Top fermented beer is subject to the same rule with the addition that a wider variety of malt can be used as well as technically pure sucrose and beet sugars. All ingredients and the process itself are subject to additional regulations.
Thus, German breweries continue to comply with the Biergesetz, and often claim compliance with the Reinheitsgebot even when it is patently incorrect (for example, for Wheat beer which were prohibited by the Reinheitsgebot). Thus the Reinheitsgebot has become a valuable marketing tool.
Until superseded by a change in EU law, the Reinheitsgebot was also enforced in Greece from the early 19th century due to a law by the first Greek king, Otto (originally a Bavarian prince) that had remained in effect for over a hundred years. The law drew criticism from foreign brewers as a form of protectionism that allowed Germany to prohibit beers from Belgium and England which contained sugars, grains such as Corn and Rice, and clarification and fining agents.
- Beer in Germany, many styles of beer produced despite this limitation
- List of brewing companies in Germany
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- Vorläufiges Deutsches Biergesetz (Provisional German Beer-law of 1993)
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