Reinheitsgebot? Hell no!

Written by on June 13th, 2013 // Filed under Beer, General

“So is your beer brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot?” asks an occasional patron to our brewery.

“Thankfully NO!” is our standard reply… “It is all natural, unfiltered and unpasteurised beer so you’ll be just fine.”

We get a lot of people at the brewery asking whether our beer conforms to the German beer purity law of 1516, called the Reinheitsgebot.  It is quite interesting and at times comical to discover that most of these people do not know what the law is all about, how it came into being, and why it is archaic and outdated!

So what the hell is the Reinheitsge-whatty?

The Reinheitsgebot was passed as law in Germany in 1516, and stated that only water, barley and hops can be used to brew beer. Where’s the yeast? Yeast was not discovered for another three hundred years by Louis Pasteur, so it was not on the list; brewers just combined all the ingredients together and somehow the beer fermented; we now know it was from yeast in the air.

So there you have it, according to the Reinheitsgebot, any beer brewed in with any other ingredients that are not water, barley, hops and yeast is not “pure” beer. But taking that at face value is deceptive, and in order to truly understand why “pure” beer was advocated back in the 1500s, we have to dig a bit deeper.

The Reinheitsgebot law arose due to two main factors in Germany at the time.  Firstly, the beer brewing practices of that time were not particularly sanitary, and medieval brewers used some fairly unpalatable and sometimes poisonous ingredients to preserve beer in place of hops, including soot, mushrooms, and “other stuff” (cue Windhoek ads).

Secondly, and perhaps the main reason for the law, were for political reasons relating to rising food prices.  In the middle ages, brewing grew from something people did at home into a legitimate industry. There was great competition between brewers and bakers for grains such as wheat and rye. This competition for ingredients, combined with the Germans’ insatiable thirst for beer, resulted in increasing food prices. Specifying the ingredients that brewers could use removed this price competition, and the rest is history…

Fast forward 500 years…

Beer has come a long way since then. Styles have evolved and boundaries have been pushed smashed. Using adjuncts (i.e. any ingredient to add flavour and aroma that is not hops or barley) has become an accepted practice in brewing. Any beer that is brewed properly using all natural ingredients is “pure” beer.  Brewers must just be honest in disclosing what goes into their beer.

While some of our beers conform to the Reinheitsgebot, most of them do not. We have also begun embarking on a new range of experimental beers, most of them using unique adjuncts, which we will be developing of the next couple of months. We will be collaborating with some flavour experts in order to get the best out of our brews. Exciting times ahead indeed!

So the next time you are sipping on one of our Maboneng Maverick Saison’s, and the citrusy aroma from the naartjie peel, or the peppery-dry finish from the crushed peppercorns is not “pure” enough for you, then rather go and drink a Windhoek.  But purer beer than ours you will not find.