Saturday, April 23, 2016

Half a Millenium

500 years ago on this day, April 23, 1516, the Duke of Bavaria, William IV, issued the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law) for the brewing of beer:

Wir wollen auch sonderlichhen dass füran allenthalben in unsern stetten märckthen un auf dem lannde zu kainem pier merer stüchh dan allain gersten, hopfen un wasser genommen un gepraucht solle werdn (We demand in particular that from now on and everywhere in our towns, markets, and in the countryside to any beer no more than barley, hops, and water shall be taken and used).

Red Baron wrote his first blog about beer in 2011: Commemorating Boozing Dates. He had learned that the satzung unnd ordnung über die weyne (rules and ordinance about wine) dating back to August 24, 1498, is 18 years older than the Reinheitsgebot for beer. The ordinance about the purity of wine was the only tangible result of the Imperial Diet held at Freiburg in 1498.

There is more bad news for Bavarians. In my blog Baguette de Tradition I reported that it was not their Duke Wilhelm who was the first to issue a regulation for the brewing of bierre but Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who ordered as early as 1438 that only barley, hops, and water were allowed. Beer in Burgundy? In the 15th century, la Bourgogne was the biggest producer of hops and historians have found out that Philip's decree was aimed to protect domestic cultivation of hops rather than the purity of beer.

The Bavarians were shocked and looked further into their beer history. In my blog Back to the Roots? I reported that a Munich Reinheitsgebot already dates from anno Domini 1487 and beats at least the satzung unnd ordnung über die weyne by 12 years. In that year Duke Albert IV the Wise of Bavaria-Munich cast an order of the Munich magistrate of 1453 into law: dass Bier und Greußing* nu füran auch aus nichts anderem dann Hopfen, Gersten und Wasser gesotten werden (that from now on and forever beer and mild beer shall be seethed using nothing else than hops, barley, and water).
*a beer with less hops

Let us be clear. Originally the purity of beer was not what is meant when reading the following order:
The mayor announces that beer will be brewed on Wednesday
and therefore it is no longer allowed to shit
into the creek from Tuesday on (from Facebook).
In fact, the intention of Duke William's ordinance was to prohibit the use of wheat, rye, and oats for brewing beer for these cereals are important for the feeding of men/women and horses. Nevertheless, quoting Der Spiegel, for Herbert Frankenhauser, honorary president of the German Institute for Pure Beer, the purity law is a bulwark against incompetents and all the ills foreign beer allegedly entails: herbs, headaches, and consumer deception. He believes the purity law is "the world's first consumer protection law." Beer lovers however rather regard the purity law as consumer protection leading to consumer deception. Although carrying the name of a variety of well-known brands Germany's mass-produced beers taste more or less the same to the disappointment of many consumers. Is this the reason why beer consumption in my country dropped from 150 liters in the 1980ies to 106 liters per inhabitant in 2015?*
*Note that the Czechs are Weltmeister with 144 liters per inhabitant 

The German Einheitsplörre (universal dishwater) is a result of the way how hops is used. When visiting the Jever brewery in East Frisia in 2009 I noticed that the classical sacks filled with aromatic hop cones had been replaced by hops pressed into pellets.

Pellets for Pils in Jever (©Gert Kalischer)

Special stamp:
500 years Reinheitsgebot for beer
(©Deutsche Post)
Apparently, in the meantime the use of pellets has even been topped with the extraction of alpha acid from hops. Alpha acid gives the bitterness to the beer. Is this extract from hops in line with the Reinheitsgebot? Forget it. The problem is that alpha acid is deprived of all the flavoring substances and therefore mass-produced German beers differ in the degree of bitterness, i.e., the amount of alpha acid added to the brew.

Enter the craft-beer brewers. Most of them still adhere to the Reinheitsgebot but they experiment with the choice of yeast, barley, and the selection of "real" hops often imported from abroad. In fact, most hops grown in Germany is just cultivated for a maximum output of alpha acid.

In a blog about this special anniversary, I read this morning: Prost Reinheitsgebot! Nich lang snacken, Kopf in Nacken! (Don't chat too long, put your head back ... and down the hedge).

Happy birthday, Reinheitsgebot but let us not look at it the German way, i.e., in too narrow a context.

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