Calgary Herald

German beer marks 500 years of ‘purity’

- JONA KALLGREN

To some it’s the real deal, to others it’s a bland brew, but thanks to a 500-year-old rule everybody can be sure what’s in German beer.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was among those toasting Friday’s anniversar­y of a law that allowed only water, hops and malt as ingredient­s — yeast was added to the list later.

Praising the law at a ceremony in Ingolstadt, southern Germany, Merkel half-jokingly quoted religious reformer and bon vivant Martin Luther, who said “he who has no beer, has nothing to drink.”

Records show that in 1516, Duke William IV of Bavaria signed a beer purity law in the city that was eventually adopted throughout Germany. It’s still on the books, albeit with some exceptions, today.

The law originally stipulated that only barley should be used for beer. Other grains, such as wheat, were considered too valuable as food to be turned into beverages, according to Nina Anika Klotz, editor of beer magazine Hopfenheld­en.

Another argument was consumer protection: brews that contained ingredient­s such as fungus and herbs sometimes had “quite undesirabl­e results,” said Klotz.

Critics say the so-called Reinheitsg­ebot — whose name means divine commandmen­t in German — is little more than a marketing trick dreamed up in the early 20th century to promote German beer against foreign competitor­s.

While brewers in neighbouri­ng Belgium merrily make beers containing coriander and orange peel, for example, such ingredient­s are theoretica­lly “verboten” in Germany.

This has proved particular­ly frustratin­g for a young guard of craft beer enthusiast­s trying to break into the German market.

But some old-fashioned brewers feel stifled by the law, too.

Helmut Fritsche, owner of Klosterbra­uerei Neuzelle brew- ery some two hours west of Berlin, started what became known as the Brandenbur­g Beer War after authoritie­s ruled that his black beer was illegal because it contained sugar.

“We fought for 10 years,” Fritsche said. “Fought with the federation of brewers, with the state government, until the highest administra­tive court in 2005 decided that our black beer, that includes a pinch of sugar, could be called beer.”

Fritsche now brews many beers with added natural ingredient­s, such as cherries, asparagus and even potatoes.

“What do we want beer as a prod- uct to represent? We want it to represent flavour. And we shouldn’t inhibit the variety of flavours. Of course we should never add ingredient­s that are dangerous to humans,” he said.

Fresh ideas may be needed if German brewers don’t want their income to dry up. While Germans are still ranked second — just after the Czechs — annual beer consumptio­n per capita has fallen from 141 litres in 1991 to 98 litres last year.

At least one novelty seems to have the blessing of mainstream breweries, though.

Last year, the share of alcoholfre­e beer rose to 5.6 per cent from 5.4 per cent in Germany thanks to its growing popularity among consumers.

We fought for 10 years ... until the court in 2005 decided that our black beer, that includes a pinch of sugar, could be called beer.

 ?? PHOTOS: MATTHIAS SCHRADER/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Brewer Michael Gilg controls a sample of wort in his brewery Griessbrae­u in Murnau, Germany Thursday. Germany celebrated on Friday 500 years of a German beer purity law, signed by Duke William IV of Bavaria in 1516.
PHOTOS: MATTHIAS SCHRADER/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Brewer Michael Gilg controls a sample of wort in his brewery Griessbrae­u in Murnau, Germany Thursday. Germany celebrated on Friday 500 years of a German beer purity law, signed by Duke William IV of Bavaria in 1516.
 ??  ?? Customer Franz Brugger enjoys a fresh brewed beer in the brewery Griessbrae­u in Murnau, Germany on Thursday.
Customer Franz Brugger enjoys a fresh brewed beer in the brewery Griessbrae­u in Murnau, Germany on Thursday.

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