Posted on September 24th, 2009
A copy of the 1516 German beer purity law, the Reinheitsgebot
Today beer is commonly defined as containing four main ingredients: Water, barley, yeast and hops, but there are plenty of exceptions to this definition. There are the folks at Dogfish Head Brewery who have been known to throw everything from juniper to strawberries into their world class beers, and on the other end macro-brewers like Anheuser-Busch who use corn and rice to make their cheap lagers even cheaper. Despite these outliers beer has generally stuck to these basic four ingredients. Although there are many contributing factors, beer’s adherence to these rules can largely be traced back to the Reinheitsgebot, the German law enacted by Wilhelm IV of Bavaria on April 23, 1516 stating:
The only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be barley, hops and water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.
The wording of this law of course omits the all-important ingredient of yeast, but that was because folks at the time weren’t aware of its existence. Yeast as well as wheat were later added to the list of acceptable ingredients and the law remained in effect until 1987. Because this rule applied to not only beer made in Germany but beer sold there as well the law ended up dictating the habits of brewers not just in Germany but all across Europe as no one wanted to be excluded from the profitable German market.
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