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I see some US beers advertising that they brew according to the "German Beer Purity Law." What is that, and is it still relevant today?

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Shouldn't the appropriate tag be GERMANY rather than GERMAN? –  user150 Jan 29 at 21:33
    
Err, maybe. Good question. "Germany" seems weird, since it's a question about german beer. How about german-beer? –  Fishtoaster Jan 29 at 21:36
    
Once someone gets mod permissions, we can probably set up a tag synonym. –  Fishtoaster Jan 29 at 21:36
    
Well I asked because there is already a POLAND tag, rather than a POLISH tag. –  user150 Jan 29 at 21:37
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And as you can see, I have added BREWING and LAWS. I think they are relevant too. –  user150 Jan 29 at 21:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The German Beer Purity Law, also know as the Reinheitsgebot, dictates what ingredients may be used to create beer in Germany: barley, hops, and water. It dates back to 1487, which is why you may notice the omission of yeast: it hadn't been recognized as an ingredient yet. The law was removed from the books in 1993, and replaced by another similar law which allowed yeast, sugar, and some of the more common brewing ingredients.

In the case of a US brewery making such a claim, it's a sort of advertisement toward the "purity" of their product, i.e., they don't use adjuncts (rice, etc) or other flavorings (fruit, spices) in their beer.

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During german history there were also phases where only beer brewed obeying the Reinheitsgebot may actually be called Bier (beer). After 1983 this was somewhat softened, but until now there are rules and laws in effect that tell what may be called Bier, and what not, and their ancestor is basically the Reinheitsgebot. –  PlasmaHH Feb 5 at 12:20

In addition to what's been said, the original purpose of the order was to protect consumers from brewers who used problematic (toxic/psychoactive) herbs to preserve their beer, instead forcing them to use hops. Also only using barley allowed wheat and rye to be used exclusively by bakers to keep the cost of bread down.

One could argue the tradition has kept German brewers from innovating, and also keeps a lot of interesting styles out of reach. Most Belgian-style beers, despite having a similar heritage to German styles, will include candi sugar and spices like anise and coriander. Technically, sour beers are also out. Also, a lot of the Trappist ales will use sugar adjuncts. Today, it's mostly a statement of adherence to tradition, which can carry good marketing weight. But this is beer, not marketing.

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Great perspective and historical information here. –  object88 Jan 29 at 21:28

The purity law has been introduced to regulate the production of beer in the Holy Roman Empire. The original text stipulated that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops.

The "Reinheitsgebot" has actually survived the Holy Roman Empire. Many German brewers are proud of this heritage and claim to stick to it. It's relevance today is commercial. It's used as a label for marketing reasons.

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Eh, it's a bit more than marketing. Sure, it can be used for marketing, just like labels that say “made without any artifical conservants”, but it's a quality standard and purity guarantee (see the other answers). –  mirabilos Jan 30 at 14:08
    
It's a committment to not add other stuff. Sure, this can be used for marketing, but it does not necessarily stem from it. –  mirabilos Jan 30 at 23:04
    
Of course there are other ways, but by referencing a well-known standard, be it the purity law from $place and $time, or DIN ISO A4 paper size, people know what they get without needing to look it up or massive specification on the labels. –  mirabilos Feb 3 at 13:21
    
@PERTSONANONGRATA, Please don't continue conversations from chat on unrelated comment threads. I've deleted your comments, since they had nothing to do with this answer. –  Fishtoaster Feb 27 at 23:51

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