Das Reinheitsgebot


The German Beer Purity Decree of 1516

The makers of German beer have long boasted about their unique “purity law” (Reinheitsgebot, actually “purity decree”), first proclaimed in 1516 by the Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV in the town of Ingolstadt. Although there had been earlier decrees concerning the ingredients for making beer in what is now Germany, they applied only to a particular city or region. The 1516 Bavarian beer purity decree was the first to apply to an entire German kingdom or principality.

Until 1987, the Reinheitsgebot was part of German law. It was also the oldest food quality regulation in the world remaining in force. But Germany, as a member of the European Union (EU), was forced by a court decision to change the law in order to allow free trade of goods within the EU. (Non-German brewers viewed the Reinheitsgebot as a form of protectionism for German breweries.) Since 1993, a new, more liberal German beer law has been in effect. Nevertheless, many German brewers still abide by the Reinheitsgebot, which dictates that beer may contain only three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. (A key ingredient in the beer-brewing process, yeast, was not discovered until long after 1516.) When Bavaria joined Prussia to become part of the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) in the unification of 1871, one of the conditions was that the Bavarian beer purity law apply to all of Germany.

TV beer

A television ad for Berliner Pilsner beer. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo (from German TV)

Critics of the old German beer purity law like to point out that the Reinheitsgebot in itself did not guarantee a good beer, and that it limited the types of beers that could be brewed and sold. (Wheat beer, Weizenbier, and most dark beers are technically in violation of the purity code.) They also point out, correctly, that the original 1516 Reinheitsgebot was in reality more of a bread bakers protection law than a beer law, reserving wheat and rye strictly for bread. However, the Reinheitsgebot did serve to keep German beer from being adulterated with other ingredients often found in non-German beer.

The Reinheitsgebot (English translation)
Also see the German version below the English.

We hereby proclaim and decree, by authority of our land, that henceforth everywhere in the Principality of Bavaria, in the country, as well as in our cities and marketplaces that have no such special ordinance for it: From Michaelmas [Sept. 29] until the Feast of St. George [April 23], a mug [1] or one head [2] of beer is not to be dispensed for more than one Munich penny, and from the Feast of St. George to Michaelmas, the liter mug shall not be dispensed for more than two pennies of the same currency, the head for not more than three Heller [3], by threat of the penalties spelled out below.

However, when one brews any beer (other than Märzenbier), it will under no circumstances be dispensed and sold for more than one penny per mug. Furthermore, we especially decree that henceforth in all our towns, marketplaces and the whole of the countryside, that for no beer shall any ingredients other than barley, hops, and water be used and employed. Anyone who knowingly ignores our threat and violates it, shall be punished by the court of his jurisdiction by having said barrel of beer summarily confiscated, each time it happens.

However, if an innkeeper buys one, two, or three pails [4] of beer from a brewery in our towns, marketplaces, or the whole countryside, for resale to the common people, he alone shall be allowed and permitted to sell mugs and heads of beer for one Heller more than prescribed above. Furthermore, We as the Prince of Bavaria reserve the right to ordain appropriate changes to this decree for the public benefit in the event that severe hardship should arise due to shortages and price increases of grains (since the seasons and the region and the harvest times in our land can vary); in that event, the right to adjust the regulations over the sale are explicitly expressed and established.

Footnotes
1. mug = (Bavarian “Maß”) 1.069 liters (1.13 quarts)
2. head = round container, holding slightly less than a Bavarian ‘mug’
3. Heller = half a Munich penny (Pfennig)
4. pail = 60 liters (16 US gallons)

Das Reinheitsgebot (German text)
Also see the English version above.

Bierglas

A glass of German beer. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Wir verordnen, setzen und wollen mit dem Rat unserer Landschaft, dass forthin überall im Fürstentum Bayern sowohl auf dem Lande wie auch in unseren Städten und Märkten, die keine besondere Ordnung dafür haben, von Michaeli (29. September) bis Georgi (23. April) eine Maß oder ein Kopf Bier für nicht mehr als einen Pfennig Münchener Währung und von Georgi bis Michaeli die Maß für nicht mehr als zwei Pfennig derselben Währung, der Kopf für nicht mehr als drei Heller (gewöhnlich ein halber Pfennig) bei Androhung unten angeführter Strafe gegeben und ausgeschenkt werden soll.

Wo aber einer nicht Märzen sondern anderes Bier brauen oder sonstwie haben würde, soll er es keineswegs höher als um einen Pfennig die Maß ausschenken und verkaufen. Ganz besonders wollen wir, dass forthin allenthalben in unseren Städten, Märkten und auf dem Lande zu keinem Bier mehr Stücke als allein Gersten, Hopfen und Wasser verwendet und gebraucht werden sollen.

Wer diese unsere Androhung wissentlich übertritt und nicht einhält, dem soll von seiner Gerichtsobrigkeit zur Strafe dieses Fass Bier, so oft es vorkommt, unnachsichtig weggenommen werden.

Wo jedoch ein Gastwirt von einem Bierbräu in unseren Städten, Märkten oder auf dem Lande einen, zwei oder drei Eimer (enthält etwa 60 Liter) Bier kauft und wieder ausschenkt an das gemeine Bauernvolk, soll ihm allein und sonst niemand erlaubt und unverboten sein, die Maß oder den Kopf Bier um einen Heller teurer als oben vorgeschrieben ist, zu geben und auszuschenken.

Auch soll uns als Landesfürsten vorbehalten sein, für den Fall, dass aus Mangel und Verteuerung des Getreides starke Beschwernis entstünde, nachdem die Jahrgänge auch die Gegend und die Reifezeiten in unserem Land verschieden sind, zum allgemeinen Nutzen Einschränkungen zu verordnen, wie solches am Schluss über den Verkauf ausführlich ausgedrückt und gesetzt ist.

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