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Stamp celebrating the history of the Reinheitsgebot.

The Reinheitsgebot (German pronunciation: [ˈʁaɪnhaɪtsɡəboːt], literally "purity order"), sometimes called the "German Beer Purity Law" in English, is the collective name for a series of regulations limiting the ingredients in beer in Germany and its predecessor states. The most well-known version of the law was adopted in Bavaria in 1516, but similar regulations predate the Bavarian order, and modern regulations also significantly differ from the 1516 Bavarian version.

1516 Bavarian law[edit]

Hops, one of the permitted ingredients.
Barley, one of the permitted ingredients.

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

Ingredients permitted[edit]

According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops.

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 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 [Bavarian Liter 1,069] 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 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, markets 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 markets 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 of 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 impact[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.[2] It has also been argued that the rule had a protectionist role, as beers from Northern Germany often contained additives that were not present in Bavarian beer.[3]

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.[4][5]:410–411 The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as soot, stinging nettle and henbane.[6]

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.[7] 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, laurel, and wheat.[8] Yeast was also added to modern versions of the law after the discovery of its role in fermentation.

Impact on beer diversity in Germany[edit]

Historically, the restriction on ingredients 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.[citation needed] However, 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.

More recently, some commentators,[5]:122[9] German brewers,[10] and even German politicians[11] have argued that the Reinheitsgebot has slowed Germany's adoption of beer trends popular in the rest of the world, like Belgian lambics and American craft styles.



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.[12] A variety of other beer regulations also existed in Germany during the late Middle Ages, including in Nuremberg in 1293, Erfurt in 1351, and Weisensee in 1434.[13][14]

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.[5] It was not until 1906 that the law was applied consistently across all of Germany,[5] and it was not formally referred to as Reinheitsgebot until the Weimar Republic[15] (as in 1871, Bavaria had demanded adoption as a condition for joining the Republic).[5]

In 1952, the basic regulation 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 50s and early 60s.[15] 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).[16]

Modern changes[edit]

In March 1987, in a case brought by French brewers, the European Court of Justice found that the Reinheitsgebot was protectionist, and therefore in violation of Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome.[15][16][17] This ruling concerned only imported beer, so Germany chose to continue to apply the law to beer brewed in Germany.[15] (Greece's version of the Reinheitsgebot was struck down around the same time.[15]) 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.[15]

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 hops 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 malt can be used as well as pure sugars for flavor and coloring.[18]

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".[19][not in citation given]

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.[11]

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.[15] 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.[20][21] Some breweries in areas outside of Germany, such as Gordon Biersch in California and Windhoek in Namibia, also claim to be compliant to the Reinheitsgebot as part of their marketing.[22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gaab, Jeffrey S. (2006-01-01). Munich: Hofbräuhaus & History: Beer, Culture, & Politics. Peter Lang. p. 10. ISBN 9780820486062. 
  2. ^ Mason, Betsy (2010-04-23). "April 23, 1516: Bavaria Cracks Down on Beer Brewers". WIRED. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 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. 
  3. ^ Barlösius, Eva (1999-01-01). Soziologie des Essens: eine sozial- und kulturwissenschaftliche Einführung in die Ernährungsforschung (in German). Juventa. p. 213. ISBN 9783779914648. 
  4. ^ Rätsch, Christian (1998-01-01). Enzyklopädie der psychoaktiven Pflanzen: Botanik, Ethnopharmakologie und Anwendung (in German). AT Verlag. p. 733. ISBN 9783855025701. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Oliver, Garrett (2011-09-09). The Oxford Companion to Beer. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 392. ISBN 9780195367133. 
  6. ^ Christian Rätsch (2015-07-29). "Urbock oder echtes Bier" (in German). Retrieved 2015-08-26. 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. 
  7. ^ Albala, Ken (2015-03-27). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues. SAGE Publications. p. 1488. ISBN 9781506317304. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ DeBenedetti, Christian (2011-03-02). "Brauereisterben: The sad state of German beer culture.". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  10. ^ Thaler, Claudia (2014-12-01). "Mikro-Bierbrauer und das deutsche Reinheitsgebot". Welt Online. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  11. ^ a b Dumke, Holger (2015-09-02). "NRW-Regierung rüttelt nicht am Reinheitsgebot für Bier". WAZ (in German). Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  12. ^ Porst. In: Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde. Band 23, ISBN 3-11-017535-5, S. 287 ff.
  13. ^ "German Beer History". German Beer Institute. Retrieved 2015-09-04. 
  14. ^ Pohle. "Reinheitsgebot 1434". Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Swinnen, Johan F. M. (2011-10-27). The Economics of Beer. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191505010. 
  16. ^ a b Glenny, Misha (1986-09-25). Last orders for Reinheitsgebot. New Scientist. 
  17. ^ "EuGH, 12.03.1987 - 178/84 - Inverkehrbringen von Bier aus einem anderen Mitgliedstaat ; Verstoß gegen das Reinheitsgebot für Bier ; Verstoß gegen gemeinschaftsrechtliche Vertragspflichten ; Verwendung der Bezeichnung Bier". (in German). Retrieved September 5, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Bundesgesetzblatt 1993 Teil I Seite 1400". Law Web Saarbrücken (in German). Institut fuer Rechtsinformatik, Universitaet des Saarlandes. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  19. ^ Buse, Patrick (2015-04-23). "499 Jahre deutsches Reinheitsgebot". Legal Tribune Online. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  20. ^ "Push Brews in Germany To Add Beer To United Nations’ Cultural Heritage List". WSJ Blogs - Speakeasy. 2013-12-11. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  21. ^ "Interview Christoph Wulf zu Aufnahmen Immaterielles Kulturerbe". 2014-12-01. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  22. ^ "Company History". Gordon Biersch. Retrieved 2015-09-05. 
  23. ^ Mager, Anne Kelk (2010-01-01). Beer, Sociability, and Masculinity in South Africa. Indiana University Press. p. 127. ISBN 0253354498. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dornbusch, Horst D. (1997). Prost!: The Story of German Beer. Boulder, CO: Siris Books. ISBN 0-937381-55-1. 
  • Rätsch, Christian (1996). Urbock: Bier jenseits von Hopfen und Malz. Aarau (CH): AT Verlag. ISBN 3-85502-553-3.