Celebrating 500 Years of the Beer Purity Law in Germany

 

Nothing but the real thing in Bamberg—one of Germany's great beer cities

In Germany, you’ll know what’s in your stein each and every time thanks to the Reinheitsgebot or Beer Purity Law. The decree—which celebrates its 500th anniversary this year—stipulates that beer can be made with malted grains, hops, water and yeast but nothing else.

Beer means beer in Germany.

 
 

To learn more about what makes German beers so damn good, I headed to Bamberg in Bavaria’s Upper Franconia, a region that has the world’s highest number of breweries per capita. There are some 60 breweries in the Bamberg area, and I land on local favorite Mahrs Bräu to hang with fourth-generation brewmaster Stephan Michel.

 “I think the Beer Purity Law is very important because it shows the customer what he’s drinking. Because we just use barley, yeast, brew water and hops. There’s nothing else allowed,” said Michel, CEO and Brewmaster of Mahrs Brewing Company. “And Bamberg has the oldest purity law. It’s 27 years older than the regular Bavarian purity law. Here, you can drink close to one different beer every day. It’s a paradise for every beer drinker.” 

While Germany restricts the ingredients that can go into beer, it doesn’t limit creativity.  

First documented in 1405 and family-run for six generations, Schlenkerla has been brewing unconventional beers long before it was fashionable. The brewery is world famous for its smoked beer or “rauchbier.” The beer’s intense, smoky flavor (it tastes like smoked ham!) comes from malted barley that’s dried over an open flame. 

At Schlenkerla, you might feel as if you’ve stepped back in time as your server—clad in a dirndl—pours a racuhbier right out of the cask. 

  Schlenkerla serves its famous smoked beer from the cask. Image courtesy of  Schlenkerla.

 Schlenkerla serves its famous smoked beer from the cask. Image courtesy of  Schlenkerla.

German brewers can also manipulate the characteristics of beer by using whisky or red wine barrels, for instance, or by purchasing hops and barley from far-away lands, including New Zealand, Japan or South Africa. 

“We can buy [hops] from all over the world and try to brew beers under the purity law. You don’t have to put chili and all this crazy stuff in it. For what? What we want in Germany is drinkability. Our customers love to drink beer.”

Locals genuinely appreciate the taste of tradition. This means great beer paired with farm-fresh food and lively conversation. 

Without a doubt, Germany is the land of pure, unadulterated beer, made the same way today as centuries ago. This is the true definition of beer—I’ll drink to that.

 

My trip was made possible by the German National Tourist Board. Views expressed are my own.