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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Happy 500th Birthday, Reinheitsgebot

This is the 500th anniversary of the world's most famous brewing law. I did a big story for the anniversary in the print edition of All About Beer--and I see that it's online now. There's a lot about this law that is curious both historically and culturally. It is, of course, a Bavarian law, which is why folks to the north continued to blithely and complete ignore its dictates until well into the 19th century. Despite that, its legacy is evident in every brewery in Germany now, whether they're making lager in Munich or gose in Leipzig. But what I find most interesting is the context of the law now, in 2016, and what its status is likely to be in the next few years. 
The 500th anniversary comes at an interesting moment for German brewers and may be an opportunity for a reconsideration of the venerable law. As people stop to look at the law this year they may discover a couple of things. First, there’s the public perception of what the law disallows, which isn’t exactly correct. Urban Chestnut's Florian Kuplent expects this to cause one kind of reckoning. “I do see the danger of somebody coming up and saying, ‘Hey, this whole thing is actually not valid anymore because you are using PVCC, you are using malt extract, you are using salts to modify your water, so you’re really not brewing according to Rein­heitsgebot.’ I think people will have a hard time distinguishing the truth.”
I did my best to include absolutely everything in here and get it accurate. So there's a consideration of the myths of Reinheitsgebot (like the old chestnut about 16th century brewers not knowing yeast exists), its history, the weird ways it's applied now (that PVCC reference is a hint), and the ways it has shaped German brewing. It's one of the things I'm most proud to have written (actual reporting!), so go have a look if you haven't seen it.

Schlenkerla's Matthias Trum, who
educated me about Reinheitsgebot.

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