April 23, 1516: German Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) Signed in Bavaria

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A Brief History

On April 23, 1516, the region of Bavaria, a region world famous for their wonderful beer, signed on to the Reinheitsgebot, the laws in German and former Holy Roman Empire districts that regulate the ingredients and purity of beer.

Digging Deeper

Although versions of this law were made as early as 1487, the 1516 Bavarian version signed in Ingolstadt is the most famous and influential of the Reinheitsgebot (meaning “purity order”) and was campaigned by Bavaria for adoption across Germany as the various German states unified in the 19th Century.

Stamp celebrating the history of the Reinheitsgebot

The law allows for only water, hops and barley as ingredients for beer, simple and without room for funky permutations of such an important beverage.  (Of course, yeast is allowed as a vital part of fermentation.)  Benjamin Franklin is often incorrectly given credit for the quotation, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy,” but even though he did not say this exactly, he was indeed a great proponent of beer and a consumer of the product.  (We do not know who really said this famous quote, but it is not only famous, but undoubtedly true.)

When you look at the distressingly long list of chemicals contained in your soda pop, your energy drinks, your iced coffee drinks, your fruit or vegetable juice beverages and the like, you will be comforted by known that any beer made under the Reinheitsgebot consists of water, hops and barley and nothing else.  No preservatives, no phony flavor enhancers, no fake colors, just pure, delicious beer.

Critics of the law point out the lack of variety in German beer compared to the incredible diversity found in American craft beers so popular today. Actually, some small exceptions have been made in the Purity Law to allow for other malted grains and at least a bit of diversity, especially for export.  Still, it is comforting to know that Germans take their beer seriously enough to make its purity a national issue.  Kudos to them!

Do you have a favorite beer?  If so, please share your opinions on your favorite style or brand of beer or ale.  (My absolute favorite is Yuengling, followed closely by Sam Adams Boston Lager and Great Lakes Dortmunder.  Of course, virtually any German beer is considered by the author to be a great treat and a delicacy!)

Plaque on the outside of the brewery.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Schwedt, Georg.  Fünf Jahrhunderte Reinheitsgebot des Bieres 1516: eine historische Biotechnologie des Bieres für Geniesser.  Shaker Media, 2016.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.