This Year Marks 5 Centuries of the German Beer Purity Law

(Image: tpsdave via Pixabay/CC0 1.0)
(Image: tpsdave via Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the “German Beer Purity Law” or “Reinheitsgebot.” It’s an act that prohibits the use of any ingredient in beer production other than water, barley malt, and hops. According to the website Reinheitsgebot the law was introduced for three reasons:

  1. To protect the citizens against expensive beer prices.
  2. Wheat was prohibited as a brewing grain as it was to be used solely for bread.
  3. And the most important, so brewers could not add ingredients that would cause hallucinogenic effects, were overly intoxicating, or which would impart rich flavors.

At the time of the act’s introduction barley and hops were rare, expensive, and taxable. Therefore, many households would substitute other ingredients such as thorn-apple, soot, or deadly nightshage in order to cut costs, however they could have deadly effects.

Watch this short video on the history of Reinheitsgebot by Die deutschen Brauer – Deutscher Brauer-Bund e.V.:

Beer is a major part of German culture, and the act has had a profound impact on the country with Reinheitsgebot being known as a quality guarantee. German beer is the nation’s pride and joy, and one of its favorite topics of conversation.

Going on strike for beer

Beer is the product of a civilized society. Although further developed in Germany, it originated thousands of years ago in the “Fertile Crescent” region, now parts of Iraq and Syria. In 1960 workers at one Mannheim factory, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, went on strike over beer. The company had recently been acquired by the American corporation John Deer.

The American corporate culture was different — they didn’t have breakfast with beer, sausage, and bread like their German counterparts. When the cafeteria no longer served beer, the workers took industrial action. It took just ten days for the American owners to cave in to the demand for beer.

The importance of beer

About twenty years ago beer was gradually disappearing from the German workplace. Nowadays, the German government has no rule banning beer at work, but pride in achievement is something fundamental to German history and culture. This has naturally resulted in the gradual removal of beer from work settings. On the one hand Germans have more freedom — on the other they are willing to apply strict corporate discipline.

Three or four decades ago some outrageous beer ads could be seen, with doctors advising patients to drink beer and take mineral supplements. Beer was considered a standard food for all ages. It was difficult to obtain clean drinking water so beer was an important means of defense against infectious disease.

Beer was also an important way for the working class to get calories. Without beer, it’s hard to imagine the industrial revolution happening at all!

Miners drink beer for safe production

In the 1920s heavy industry and mining companies subsidized workers to drink beer instead of low quality brandy. Drinking beer would produce body heat needed for workers, and was safer than the alternative low quality liquor.

Before the Industrial Revolution, beer-making was considered woman’s work. Only a small amount of beer was being produced — and it was tax free. Many families drank mainly homemade beer.

Industrialization revolutionized beer production and sales; a wagon loaded with beer casks in the big city became part of folk culture. Now no-one brews their own — they’ll just buy it ready-made in a standard beer bottle.

Edited by Guy Harvey

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