Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Purity Law: Protecting Beer in Bavaria

William (Wilhelm) IV, Duke of Bavaria
Before the advent of water treatment and water safety laws, water quality was very poor. It was only use for washing, bathing, but never for human drinking. It was a custom of the people to drink processed beverages, like wine, ale, and also for beer. Popularity of beer led into problems in productions. In order to protect the consumers of beer, two dukes enacted the Purity.

In Europe, none I more famous for beer than the city of Munich in Bavaria. Famous Oktoberfest was a testament to its long history of beer tradition. Alongside beer tradition, the Oktoberfest also celebrates the famous consumer protection quality standard law called the Reinheitsgebot otherwise known as the Purity Law.

The Purity Law could be traced back in 1516. Beer consumption was at its peak. Commoners and nobility consumed beer to quench their thirst as water was dangerous and risky to drink. High production of beer, however, led to problems. Bavarian importation of beer from Northern Germany caused contamination and impurities. When beer traveled from Northern Germany to Bavaria, rain and moisture could dilute the beer. When the beer arrived the price it was sold was not equal to the quality of the traded beer. Another problem was profiteering of some mischievous beer maker. Some Bavarian beer maker added impurities such as sugar in order to make beer in a lower quality but with the same price of pure high quality beer.

Actions were made to solve impurities and protect beer drinkers.  During the 1100’s, the city of Augsburg outlawed producers of low quality and adulterated beer. In 1290 and 1303, the German city of Nuremberg passed an act that all traded beer must be made of barley. But none was more influential and more well-known purity law than that of 1516. On that year, the co-Dukes of Bavaria, William (Wilhelm) IV and Louis (Ludwig) X enacted a purity law or originally in German, Surrogatuerbot or Surrogate. The name Reinheitsgebot was only coined in 1918 by Hans Rauch.

The Purity Law of 1516 set the standard of lager beer. The law was only applicable to lager bottom fermented beer. According to law, lager beers that were allowed were should only be made of barley, hops, and pure clean water.   Barley was the only allowed material in order to save other types of grain, such as rye, for food production. Hops became an integral part of beer making since 822. Additions were made to the law as new discoveries were made. In 1857, Louis Pasteur discovered yeast, which helped in fermentation of beer. Thus it was added to the least of allowed ingredients in making beer.

The Purity Law spread throughout the Germany as time went by. In 1871, Otto von Bismarck wanted Bavaria to join the new united German Empire. He tried to persuade King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He bribed him by donating for the King’s fairy tale like castle of Neuschwanstein. But as part of the deal, Bavaria would join but it must continue the implementation of the Purity Law. Bismarck agreed. The Purity Law’s expanse was expanded and adopted by the whole German Empire as a law for the beers.  During World War II, Hitler’s conquest of Czechoslovakia and Greece allowed the Purity Law to be implemented in the mentioned countries.

The end of the Reinheitsgebot was during the dawn of a new era for Europe. The creation of a European Common Market opened home markets and new once across Europe. The Purity Law, however, was seen as a protectionist law which had to be dismantle if Germany was to join. And Germany did in 1988.

The Purity Law set the standard of tradition for over five centuries. It aimed to protect consumers and set the standard of a daily way of a people. But as time passes by, so as laws. The lifting of the Purity Law was a small price to pay for unification of Germany and of Europe.

See also:
Code of Hammurabi
Decree 770 
Nuremberg Laws

Boulton, C. Encyclopedia of Brewing. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013.

Edelstein, S. (ed.) Food Science: An Ecological Approach. Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2014.  

Gaab, J. Munich: Hofbrauhaus & History - Beer, Culture, Politics. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2008.
Oliver, G. The Oxford Companion to Beer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.   

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