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Craft Brewers Are Trolling Germany’s 500-Year-Old Beer Purity Law

With the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, some German craft brewers are taking the chance to deviate from this time-honoured norm, while still boldly flaunting the banner of “purity.”
April 24, 2016, 6:00pm
Foto von Mark Seton via Flickr

Germany's Reinheitsgebot, or "purity commandment" is one of the world's oldest food safety laws on the planet. It states, quite simply, that only water, hops, barley, and yeast are permitted in the production of beer. Otherwise, it ain't really beer, not in Germany, at least.

Obviously, the advent of mass production and agrochemicals have lead to the occasional contaminant finding its way into German beers. Still, the presence of anything other than those four aforementioned ingredients in beer is rarely intentional.

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But now, with the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, some German craft brewers are taking the chance to deviate from this time-honoured norm, while still boldly flaunting the banner of "purity."

Tilman Ludwig is one such brewer and he is throwing ginger, lemon verbena, peppermint, and basil in the mix of his "Extra Pure" ale, a not-so-subtle "fuck you" to the centuries-old purity law.

"There is a chance authorities will ban the sale, but that's a risk I'm happy to take to make a statement," Ludwig told Bloomberg, in a recent interview. "The Reinheitsgebot is not my enemy; I'm just in favor of more diversity and openness. I want the consumer to decide if a beer is good or bad, and not some public authority."

And Ludwig isn't the only brewer who feels stifled by the Reinheitsgebot. "The purity law is not an advantage, but a limitation that should be abolished," Sebastian Sauer, a brewer based near Cologne, told Bloomberg. "Of course you have a lot of possible combinations under the law, but many are so similar that you can't taste the difference. So why restrict yourself? Putting natural spices or fruits into beer doesn't make it bad."

In theory, a violation of this law can warrant a year in jail and a fine of 20,000 euros, though it is rarely enforced. The German craft beer market has grown 37 percent over the last decade, it still only makes up less than one percent of the total market.

With that in mind, it's hard to imagine how these rebel brewers could actually make a dent in the rest of the country's puritanical beer industry.