Anathema to some modern brewers, who refuse to be bound by such antiquated regulations, and will put literally anything in their beer to achieve a unique flavour (shoutout to the worst beer I’ve ever tasted, a coriander sour beer (or ‘Gose’) from Poland that I initially thought had gone badly off). And the foundation upon which the great history of German brewing rests.
The German ‘Reinheitsgebot’ - literally ‘purity order’ - refers to the famous law that regulates the brewing of beer, and continues to influence brewing not only in Germany, but around the world. It is often discussed, and often misunderstood, misattributed and misapplied. The most cursory bit of research has laid bare my own lack of knowledge, and so I will share it with you. If for some reason, our friend and former brewer Burchard is reading this, then apologies in advance. The comments are turned off.
A little history first (thanks Wikipedia): The earliest recognisable version of the regulations that are still in place today, were introduced in Munich in 1487. At the time, Bavaria was an independent hereditary electorate of the Holy Roman Empire; from 1623 to 1806, when it was succeeded by the Kingdom of Bavaria (Goddammit Wikipedia). Side note: the history of Germany/Austria/Prussia is pretty super interesting. Why didn’t we learn anything about it at school?
Anyway, when Bavaria was reunited, the Munch law was adopted in the famous 1516 version of the law, and it was Bavaria that pushed for its embrace on a national scale.
According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. The role of yeast was understood in the fermentation process but since it was transferred from one batch to the next, it was considered more of a fixture of the process than an ingredient.
A common misconception regarding the law, is that it has remained unchanged and inflexible for 500 years. In reality, they were allowing the addition of other natural ingredients like coriander <sick emoji> and wheat only 30-40 years after said law. The addition of Yeast was an early amendment and there were a number of exceptions made in regard to beer type, export beer and regional variations.
More recently, the Reinheitsgebot came under fire for causing German breweries to trail behind the global craft beer boom, as it prohibited the production of styles made popular in the USA and other countries. The great strength and history of German brewing within its borders, and the existence of many smaller regional breweries (particularly in the South) also created little opportunity for new brands to grow and compete.
In the end, Bavarian brewers voted in favour of a revision to the beer laws to allow other natural ingredients in 2015!
Returning to my first point, some vocal sectors of the industry believe the law to be old-fashioned and out of touch. Even if they don’t brew in Germany, and are therefore not bound by them. They are all essentially the same person, and can all be found in one place: Twitter.
The basic law now states that only malted grains, hops, water and yeast are permitted. Craft and non-craft brewers alike will tell you that this is in no way restrictive or outdated. By and large the craft breweries that you know and love, stick to these rules. Not because of some ideological fervor, but because their best-selling beers are not those that contain unusual and eye-catching ingredients.
In our experience, a large swathe of the craft industry is built on a foundation of straightforward, well-made and local beer. The evolution of new-world hops has introduced flavours and aromas that would blow your mind, without the need for any funky additions. And local fresh beer contains no nasty preservatives that are deemed necessary for export. Or that will give you a headache the morning after.
Our own beers are mostly aligned with these principles, and we think they reflect our own pursuit of uncomplicated, sessionable beer which doesn’t compromise on flavour. Yes, we also have a grapefruit saison. sue me.
To conclude. In an era where traditions can be brushed aside purely on the basis of their longevity, I think it’s important to appreciate how they connect us to the past and continue to influence our present. We don’t have to ignore the Reinheitsgebot, and neither do we have to follow it to the letter. Great beer is great beer.