The 411 on the German ‘Reinheitsgebot’ purity law

by Neal Cook

In our last post, we talked about Hofmeister Helles and how it‘s brewed using the old German purity law.

That got us wondering. What really is the German Reinheitsgebot law of 1516?

To answer this question, let’s take a walk down memory lane and visit the Holy Land of Beer. The one they call Oktoberfest.

Approximately 6 million people flock to the seventeen-day festival each year to Prost their steins of authentic German glory, devour an authentic Bavarian pretzel and dance with newfound friends on Hogwarts-sized-tables.

I was lucky enough to dance on the tables (and fall on my arse) last September when I made the trek to Bavaria for my first, definitely not my last, Oktoberfest.

During my first night of the festival, my uncle, Roy Oberto, who has called Munich home since 1978, described how every stein of beer served in the 14 football-sized beer tents (each holding around 7,000 people) were brewed using this old German law in which only barley, malt and water could be used.

I was shocked. How could this mild, crisp beer, that tasted different in each tent be brewed using only three ingredients? And why are the waitresses in the Hofbrau tent not giving me back any change?

The ‘Reinheitsgebot’ law (which literally means purity order) was issued by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm IV, on April 23, 1516.

The decree had three primary aims:

  1. To set the prices of beer, protecting the pockets of the German people.
  2. To limit the ingredients to barley, hops and water.
  3. To stop brewers from adding toxic or unhealthy additives in beer.

The second rule, limiting the ingredients, allowed the Duke to ban the use of wheat in beer so that more bread could be made. Doing so helped keep the price of bread more stable.

Stable beer prices and bread prices! And I thought 2017 was the best time to be alive.

In 1993 the Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) made an update which officially allowed for yeast and other stabilization agents such as PVPP to be used.

It’s been 501 years since the purity law went into effect and I think it’s safe to say the Duke of Bavaria could have never imagined the variations of beers that brewers are coming out with year after year.

Don’t be shocked if in the next few years the laws are loosened even more so in Germany to allow craft brewers more options when creating their own concoctions — but fear not — a cold stein of authentic Bavarian lager will always be waiting for you, should you go searching for it.

Me (far left) Uncle Roy (middle) Donnie (far right)