REINHEITSGEBOT!! (Bless you . . .)

I came across an interesting discussion the other day, whose topic was -Why are German beers so different from their commercial American counterparts? Short answer : Reinheitsgebot! (sneeze!)

Reinheitsgebot is one of the first and oldest consumer protection laws ever passed. It is usually referred to as the German beer purity law and was first proposed in 1487 (no typo!) and passed into law in the year of our Lord 1516. It simply stated that it was illegal to put anything except water, barley, and hops into beer. It was updated and amended into the Provisional German Beer Law which allowed the additions of yeast, wheat malt, and sugar cane (but banned unmalted barley). It has served to protect the German brewing traditions; especially for German Pilsners.

Hops were specifically mentioned in Reinheitsgebot not only for adding flavor but also acting as a preservative. Midieval brewers did not have the preservative thing down pat and were killing their fellows by adding stuff like chimney soot, poisonous mushrooms, and various herbs to their brews. These additions to brewing are called “adjuncts”. ( I always remember it as “Added JUNK”.) The German purity law basically says that if you add other junk to your brew; you cannot label and sell it as beer. These ideals are still adhered to today by many brewers- but not all.

In America; where bigger, faster, and cheaper are king – the use of adjuncts is the norm.

Large brewers use large amounts of corn and rice (among lots of other things like artificial flavoring, corn syrup, colors ,dyes, juices, extracts, etc.) in an effort to produce the most beer for the lowest cost. They use just enough of the Reinheitsgebot ingredients to flavor their brews without having to re-label it a malt liquor. ( Malt liquors are completely based on the fermentation of corn and rice.)

So, the next time you tip a Bud or a Coors against an imported German Pilsner, realize you are actually comparing a near malt liquor (flavored to taste like beer) to the real thing. Kinda like comparing a can of Spagettios to real Italian spagetti . . . Which leads to twisted thinking like- If you were born and raised only on spagettios; are they now better than the “real” thing? or are they now the real thing? (Ponder that over a pitcher, or two.)

Even though Reinheitsgebot serves to protect the traditional brewing recipes and the purity of beers, it has a downside, too. It had a chilling effect on other creative brewing styles like bohemian, lambic, and fruit based brews. Some excellent brews like German cherry beer almost disappeared. So, I guess Reinheitsgebot, like everything else, should be used in moderation.

American craft brewers have re-discovered Reinheitsgebot and its brewing ideals. They are using its principals as a foundation from which they create new innovative beer styles and flavors. The pace of innovation is amazing and the sky is the limit. The days of watery commodity beers seem to be limited. Thank Reinheitsgebot!
And now, you too are – “an informed drinker or an educated drunk.”

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