April 20, 2016
Five-hundred years ago, on April 23rd in the year 1516, the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm the IV, declared a new set of laws titled Reinheitsgebot (pronounced Rhine-heights-ga-boat) which regulated the purity of ingredients allowed in beer sold within the kingdom of Bavaria (Germany).
It was essentially the modern world’s first Consumer Protection Act and remained intact as enforced law in Germany until 1987 when other countries within the European Union (EU) challenged it as protectionist. Despite it being struck down as law, most German brewers continue to live by its high standards (at least for beer sold within their home country) and craft brewers around the world, including Steam Whistle Brewing, view it as the ultimate edict for beer making.
Historical Purpose for the Law
In the middle ages, water quality was very poor and unsafe for human consumption. It was customary instead to drink processed beverages, like wine, ale, and beer. In the Middle Ages brewing beer was a primitive science, but by the 15th Century it was also becoming a very lucrative industry. Beer production was so great that it was making grains needed for baking bread such as wheat and rye unavailable. And, unscrupulous Brewers looking to make greater profit often duped beer drinkers and tax-collectors alike by using cheaper ingredients of mixed variety to achieve their financial goals. As a result, beer was frequently foul-tasting and occasionally poisonous. In a beer-loving country like Germany, a purity law was desperately needed.
The Reinheitsgebot stated, in brief, that only pure and essential ingredients be used in beer. The only ingredients allowed were barley, hops and water. Today, of course, yeast is also recognized as a vital ingredient but in 1516 it was not yet discovered and would not be until 1857 by Louis Pasteur.
A form of testing beer involved pouring some beer on a bench and sitting in it for half an hour in leather pants. How sticky it was when the tester tried to stand up helped indicate the sugar content and other impurities.The penalty for making impure beer was also set in the Reinheitsgebot: a brewer using other ingredients for his beer could have questionable barrels confiscated with no compensation.
Bavaria insisted on the application of the Bavarian Purity Act throughout all of Germany as a precondition of German unification in 1871. As a result of the Reinheitsgebot, German beer became world renowned for its quality and consistency. Something, that here at Steam Whistle is our number one priority.
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