From Academic Kids

The Reinheitsgebot (literally "purity requirement") is a regulation that originated in the city of Ingolstadt in the duchy of Bavaria in 1516, concerning standards for the sale and composition of beer. It is thought to be the oldest food-hygiene regulation still in use.


The text

In the original text, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley, and hops. The law also set the price of beer at 1-2 Pfennig per Maß. The Reinheitsgebot is no longer part of German law: it has been replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law (Vorläufiges deutsches Biergesetz (, which allows constituent components prohibited in the Reinheitsgebot, such as wheat malt and cane sugar, but which no longer allows unmalted barley.

Note that no yeast was mentioned in the original text. It was not until the 1800s that Louis Pasteur discovered the role of microorganisms in the process of fermentation, therefore yeast was not known to be an ingredient of beer. Brewers generally took some sediment from the previous fermentation and added it to the next, the sediment generally containing the necessary organisms to perform fermentation. If none was available, they would just set up a number of vats, and usually yeast would "appear by itself".

Hops are added to beer as a preservative, and their mention in the Reinheitsgebot meant to prevent inferior methods of preserving beer that had been used before the introduction of hops. Medieval brewers had used many problematic ingredients to preserve beers, including, for example, soot and fly agaric mushrooms. More commonly, other herbs had been used, such as stinging nettles, which are related to hops.

The penalty for making impure beer was also set in the Reinheitsgebot: a brewer using other ingredients for his beer could have questionable barrels confiscated with no compensation.

German breweries are very proud of the Reinheitsgebot, and many (even brewers of wheat beer!) claim to still abide by it. This is more commerce than reality.


The Reinheitsgebot was introduced in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains to barley was meant to ensure the availability of sufficient amounts of affordable bread, as the more valuable wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers. Today many Bavarian beers are again brewed using wheat.

The Reinheitsgebot spread slowly throughout Bavaria and Germany. Bavaria insisted on its application throughout Germany as a precondition of German unification in 1871, to prevent competition from beers brewed elsewhere with a wider range of ingredients. The move encountered strong resistance from brewers outside Bavaria. It is thought to have led to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the domination of the German beer market by pilsener.

Regulations similar to those of the Reinheitsgebot were incorporated into various guild regulations and local laws all over Germany, and in 1952, they were incorporated into the West German Biersteuergesetz (Beer Taxation Law). Many brewers objected to the law at the time, disagreeing more with the amount of the tax than the ingredient requirements. The law only applied to lager beers, but brewers of other types of beer soon accepted the law as well.

Today, European Union laws allow ingredients beyond what is listed in the Reinheitsgebot - anything allowed in other foods is also allowed in beer - but most German breweries voluntarily comply with the Reinheitsgebot, using this compliance as a valuable marketing tool. Until superseded by EU law, the Reinheitsgebot was also enforced in Greece from the early 19th century due to a law by the first Greek king, Otto (originally a Bavarian prince) that had remained in effect.


The law still causes controversy. After German reunification in 1990 the Neuzeller Kloster Brewery, a former monastery brewery in the East German town of Neuzelle, Brandenburg, was warned to stop selling its traditional black beer, a product possibly older than the Reinheitsgebot itself. In the end, it was allowed to sell it under the name Schwarzer Abt ("Black Abbot" but not "beer") within Germany. However, the stringent application of the law continues to limit the range of German beers available, and only a few regional beer varieties, such as Düsseldorfer Altbier, survived its implementation.

The law drew criticism from foreign brewers as a form of protectionism that allowed West Germany to prohibit non-compliant imports, even high-quality beers from countries such as Belgium and the United Kingdom with their own long brewing traditions. The ingredient requirements have since been moved from the Biersteuergesetz into the regular food additives laws, though beer brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot receive special treatment as a protected, "traditional" food.

External links

fr:Reinheitsgebot pt:Reinheitsgebot


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