500 Years in 50 Seconds
One thing is for sure; beer is no longer brewed in Germany as it was in 1516. Pitch-lined wooden vats and open fires stoked under brew kettles are a rarity nowadays. Likewise, the chances of falling victim to an irresponsible journeyman brewer, who has flavored your beer with belladonna – otherwise known as deadly nightshade – is about as probable as being hit by a meteorite while sitting in a beer garden.
Today, beer is brewed in modern production facilities in accordance with the highest hygienic standards. Brewing technology, for which Germany is also renowned around the world, has been constantly improved over the decades. Each of the four natural ingredients is carefully selected and tested. Anyone interested in understanding how beer was brewed at the time the Reinheitsgebot was first decreed, must now simply visit a museum.
For this reason, is the Reinheitsgebot considered a relic of the past? Certainly not. German beer – as it was interpreted under the purity law of 1516 and as it is interpreted today – over those many centuries, it has endured as a natural product. The basic principle of brewing has not changed. Unlike brewers in other countries, German brewers are not allowed to use artificial flavors, enzymes or preservatives in their beer, to name just three examples. In essence, brewing is limited to only four natural ingredients, namely water, hops, malt and yeast.
Anyone who believes that the Reinheitsgebot serves to limit creativity and gives rise to monotonous beers merely has to look to the immense diversity of the country's beer, which is the envy of the world. Germany's capable brewers are relentlessly developing new beer styles from the ingredients stipulated in the purity law. This extends to the beers from the burgeoning craft brewing industry, which are almost all brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, proving that the potential inherent in those four ingredients has still not been fully realized. This doesn't mean that there has not always been a niche for drinks created with fruit and spices. The beer law is actually much more liberal than one might think.
Nonetheless, for the people in Germany, the Reinheitsgebot continues to enjoy a high rate of acceptance. In a survey conducted by the Forsa Institute, 85 percent of those interviewed said that the Reinheitsgebot should continue to be upheld. Interestingly, the purity law is held in particularly high regard by younger people. An impressive 89 percent said that they fully support the Reinheitsgebot.
So, there is absolutely no incentive for German brewers to let the 500 year-old document fade into the past – quite the opposite. With its elegant simplicity, it has perpetually provided brewers with the impetus to breathe new life into Germany’s beer culture. Success has proven the brewers right: Germany is currently experiencing a unique renaissance of brewing, beer culture and beer diversity. That alone is reason to celebrate!