Happy 496th Anniversary to Reinheitsgebot!
Looking at the level of innovation in brewing today, it is exciting to see so many new ingredients being introduced into brewing. We, along with many of our brewing colleagues, have utilized a variety of ingredients including coffee beans, coco nibs, bourbon, and even human saliva, to make some really interesting brews. However when you look at Germany, one of the pioneering countries for beer, these styles brewed with eclectic set of ingredients are hard to come by (if they are being brewed at all). This is because of Reinheitsgebot, a German beer purity law that was signed on this day (April 23) in 1516.
What is Reinheitsgebot?
Wilhelm IV of Bavaria passed Reinheitsgebot as a proclamation that required all beer in Bavaria to be brewed utilizing nothing more than water, hops, and
barley. (Note: Yeast would become the 4th allowable ingredient in the 18th century).
This German Beer Purity Law (or also referred to as the “Bavarian Purity Law”) was passed for two main reasons:
- Protect consumers from often used, unhealthy ingredients like wild mushrooms, soot, or sometimes animal parts
- Limited brewers to using barley malt, which would reserve rye and wheat to bread baking, which held a higher commodity value over beer (if you can believe that!)
However… many people outside of Germany would tell you a different story around why Reinheitsgebot was passed. Some historians claim the law’s main focus was to protect German brewers from competition outside of The Homeland, or more importantly, taxation. Others will argue that Reinheitsgebot “is totally irrelevant.”
So what was the penalty for making impure beer? A brewer using other ingredients for their beer could have barrels confiscated with no compensation if law enforcement felt the batch had used outside ingredients.
Reinheitsgebot was repealed in 1987 due to international protest that it was a barrier to free trade in Europe. Most brewers in Germany still follow the law, though there are smaller brewers popping up throughout Germany that are developing some new styles, but these are few and far between and often still feel the need to hide to avoid criticism. To this day, German brewers believe following these guidelines produces the world’s purest form of beer because it focuses the brewer on perfecting their craft while using limited resources.
Sam Adams and Reinheitsgebot
As you’ve heard (and more importantly, tasted) from us over the years, we take pride in our beer and the Reinheitsgebot law plays into a lot of what we do. Since Jim’s early days of brewing, he’s made it a point to adhere to these strict guidelines for the simple reason that beer just tastes better when you are working with the purest of ingredients. You may have heard us mention Reinheitsgebot during our collaboration with Weihenstephan while brewing Infinium. Many of our brewing styles, including Boston Lager, Boston Ale and others fall in code with Reinheitsgebot law.
Fun Fact: Our Boston Lager passed Reinheitsgebot on November 13, 1985, which made it the first American beer sold in Germany!
So on this day we raise a pint to Reinheitsgebot, a defining moment in craft beer history! No matter the reasoning behind the law, we can all agree it helped lay the groundwork for many of the great brews we enjoy today!