What is the German Beer Purity Law?

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I see some US beers advertising that they brew according to the "German Beer Purity Law." What is that, and is it still relevant today?

Fishtoaster

Posted 2014-01-29T20:49:01.653

Reputation: 3 006

1Shouldn't the appropriate tag be GERMANY rather than GERMAN? – None – 2014-01-29T21:33:03.600

Err, maybe. Good question. "Germany" seems weird, since it's a question about german beer. How about german-beer? – Fishtoaster – 2014-01-29T21:36:14.190

Once someone gets mod permissions, we can probably set up a tag synonym. – Fishtoaster – 2014-01-29T21:36:36.397

Well I asked because there is already a POLAND tag, rather than a POLISH tag. – None – 2014-01-29T21:37:29.760

1And as you can see, I have added BREWING and LAWS. I think they are relevant too. – None – 2014-01-29T21:38:22.753

Answers

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The German Beer Purity Law, also know as the Reinheitsgebot, dictates what ingredients may be used to create beer in Germany: barley, hops, and water. It dates back to 1487, which is why you may notice the omission of yeast: it hadn't been recognized as an ingredient yet. The law was removed from the books in 1993, and replaced by another similar law which allowed yeast, sugar, and some of the more common brewing ingredients.

In the case of a US brewery making such a claim, it's a sort of advertisement toward the "purity" of their product, i.e., they don't use adjuncts (rice, etc) or other flavorings (fruit, spices) in their beer.

object88

Posted 2014-01-29T20:49:01.653

Reputation: 2 348

IANAL, but afaik, the current Reinheitsgebot is just about which ingredients are in the final serving, not about what was used during the brewing. // probably it is something in between – phresnel – 2015-04-04T16:48:05.133

2During german history there were also phases where only beer brewed obeying the Reinheitsgebot may actually be called Bier (beer). After 1983 this was somewhat softened, but until now there are rules and laws in effect that tell what may be called Bier, and what not, and their ancestor is basically the Reinheitsgebot. – PlasmaHH – 2014-02-05T12:20:42.093

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In addition to what's been said, the original purpose of the order was to protect consumers from brewers who used problematic (toxic/psychoactive) herbs to preserve their beer, instead forcing them to use hops. Also only using barley allowed wheat and rye to be used exclusively by bakers to keep the cost of bread down.

One could argue the tradition has kept German brewers from innovating, and also keeps a lot of interesting styles out of reach. Most Belgian-style beers, despite having a similar heritage to German styles, will include candi sugar and spices like anise and coriander. Technically, sour beers are also out. Also, a lot of the Trappist ales will use sugar adjuncts. Today, it's mostly a statement of adherence to tradition, which can carry good marketing weight. But this is beer, not marketing.

Sloloem

Posted 2014-01-29T20:49:01.653

Reputation: 3 148

I personally find that beer lasts a LOT longer if a lot of toxic ingredients are added. :p – Atron Seige – 2016-01-15T09:24:29.003

1Great perspective and historical information here. – object88 – 2014-01-29T21:28:51.563

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The purity law has been introduced to regulate the production of beer in the Holy Roman Empire. The original text stipulated that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops.

The "Reinheitsgebot" has actually survived the Holy Roman Empire. Many German brewers are proud of this heritage and claim to stick to it. It's relevance today is commercial. It's used as a label for marketing reasons.

user150

Posted 2014-01-29T20:49:01.653

Reputation:

Eh, it's a bit more than marketing. Sure, it can be used for marketing, just like labels that say “made without any artifical conservants”, but it's a quality standard and purity guarantee (see the other answers). – mirabilos – 2014-01-30T14:08:22.623

It's a committment to not add other stuff. Sure, this can be used for marketing, but it does not necessarily stem from it. – mirabilos – 2014-01-30T23:04:27.783

Of course there are other ways, but by referencing a well-known standard, be it the purity law from $place and $time, or DIN ISO A4 paper size, people know what they get without needing to look it up or massive specification on the labels. – mirabilos – 2014-02-03T13:21:19.560

@PERTSONANONGRATA, Please don't continue conversations from chat on unrelated comment threads. I've deleted your comments, since they had nothing to do with this answer. – Fishtoaster – 2014-02-27T23:51:59.280