November 18th 2021
I could write an entire essay on this topic but here is a short summary of my thoughts on the Reinheitsgebot. The contemporary Reinheitsgebot is a ruse - a marketing gimmick. It is not the oldest food safety law, it has not been continously enforced for 505 years, and it by no means guarantees a quality product. The word "Reinheitsgebot" itself originates as a form of protectionism/quasi-xenophobia and I find it very telling that, even today, its most potent purveyors show little interest in non-German beer styles. Could it merely be a vestige of German patriotism? Or is there something truly special about it? Let's take a look at those 4 ingredients and their relation to purity.
Water: seems pretty straight forward right? Water is however not created equal and the beer industry is allowed to manipulate the water in several ways that require no declaration on the label.
Barely Malt: The husks make Barley Malt ideal for sparging, but how is barley more pure than other grains? Also, what impurities does raw barley contain that the malted version does not?
Hops: I love hops but they are literally just a plant. Get over it. Especially if you're willing to accept hop extract.
Yeast: Yeast is..well..yeast. The magical ingredient you sprinkle on malt extract to make it fit the Reinheitsgebot. (See Farbebier)
PVPP: wait how did this make the list?
Not only are these ingredients not unique, they are responsible for the overwhelming majority of beer styles around the world. So why is the Reinheitsgebot still a thing and why is it only associated with bottom fermented, German styles? Also, why are so many brewers and consumers here in love with the myth? And most importantly...how does the same country create the Reinheitsgebot and Cola-Weizen?
To me the Reinheitsgebot is akin to a dog-whistle; albeit a relatively innocuous one. It is a Trojan horse of national pride meant to associate domestic traditions with purity. I blame it for the homogenization the German beer landscape at the expense of the numerous non-Bavarian beer styles that flourished before the initial German unification. It is full of holes and exceptions that large industrial breweries use to maintain a stranglehold on the market. It's arbitrary, unnecessary, outdated and, in my opinion actually undermines what I consider an indispensable beer heritage/tradtion. The complete story of beer in Germany is fascinating and doesn't need to be told using myths or at the expense of others.
Just give me real beer, no gimmicks. Shout out to UNESCO for seeing the Reinheitsgebot for what it is.