Reinheitsgebot- What is it, and why it’s important to me.

The text (translated) of the 1516 Bavarian law is as follows:

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1,069] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller usually one-half Pfennig].

If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass.

Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, market-towns and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops, Water (and later Yeast). Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or market-towns buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass or the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley (also considering that the times of harvest differ, due to location), WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned.

The Bavarian order of 1516 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 affordable bread, as wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers.[3] The rule may have also had a protectionist role, as beers from Northern Germany often contained additives that were not present in Bavarian beer.[4]

Religious conservatism may have also played a role in adoption of the rule in Bavaria, to suppress the use of plants that were allegedly used in pagan rituals, such as gruit.[5][6]:410–411 The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as sootstinging nettle and henbane.[7]

This post has been a long time coming, both literally (see screen shot below) and figuratively, but there has been some recent events in my life that really has me “triggered” (as the kids today like to say).

I was recently at a local brewery that had 8 different beers, all of which had gimmicky ingredients. Sampling them (they were all vile) was literally disgusting. The beers were so bad, that if they were mine I would have dumped them out and re-evaluated my brewing future. Considering how much I love beer, and given the fact that I drank Jameson on the rocks for the rest of night, this amounts to an utter failure on this local brewery’s part in my opinion. Now consider all the similar beers I am seeing on various social media outlets, and I have truly had enough.

While I will admit the law is outdated, I feel it still has validity in terms of end product. Germany has always proudly showcased their brewing quality, and the best breweries of the country will always have something about the Reinheitsgebot on their packaging. It’s a mark of unsurpassed quality, using a minimal amount of ingredients with a maximum amount of skill.

It’s no secret that I am infatuated with all that is Germany. I love just about everything about it and not just the amazing beer. Maybe its my direct roots to Austria, or my last name Rabe (raven in German). It always makes me smile when my fellow German friends greet me with a “Mr. Raven”. I have a primordial calling to Germany, it’s something I can’t really explain and I’m OK with that. Well crafted German pale lagers have always been my number one goal. Their unmistakable and singular flavors, including fresh lingering grain, hint of matchstick sulfur, and impeccable balance have driven me to the lengths I’ve gone to try perfect my own recipes. To me they are in a word: beautiful.

I have always said if I could get fresh German beer, I would never brew another beer again. However to date I can’t, so here we are.

Now, I am also a lover of quite a few different beer styles which always throws folks for a loop. However, they must all have the same thing in common: they HAVE to be made well, no exception.

Here is where I am going to go on a little rant, so I apologize for it, but I have to get if off my chest, as I can no longer be silent.

I am incredibly tired of the race to the bottom in regards to beer quality.

I hate the dumbing down of information about brewing.  Brewing is a scientific process. It’s a summation of distinct technical processes geared toward a specific final product, not a willy-nilly union of hot water and whatever ingredients might get fickle consumers (or homebrewer’s friends) to drink it.

I am so tired of people adding all sorts of things to beer to make them NOT taste like beer (I am looking directly at you pastry beers, glitter beer, milkshake whatever, and sour beers),  I’m not alone either!

I am frustrated that all these new breweries opening up are just homebrewers (mediocre at that) who think for some reason they can just translate their RDWHAHB spirit and ineptitude into a brewery that makes good beer. News Flash: It doesn’t work that way.

I hate how no one values the proper education and training. This is a skilled trade. Would you let your neighbor rewire your house electrically after he read a DIY book from Lowe’s or Home Depot? Would you let someone do brake work on your car because they happen to have the basic tools and a repair manual?

I like that breweries are starting to fail.

I get America is the wild wild west of brewing right now and we are just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks (NEIPA’s), but… These beers are missing the most pivotal piece: very few are made well.

It bothers me immensely that most of these new beer “styles” need wildly crazy labels and designs to make them appealing to the young folks now.

I feel people have to brew these styles because they can’t make beer properly in general.

It makes me furious that we continually get compared to other sites that conduct pseudo-science. Here are my sources, where are yours?

We pride ourselves here on professional brewing techniques down to the finest of details. No one from those sites could even come close the the knowledge, process and technique we have. It’s like comparing a caveman to an astronaut. Personally I have nothing against those sites, or  homebrewers in general, and certainly appreciate the differing skill sets that each brewer possesses. It’s a hobby and it should be fun. However, we are engineers and scientists. The gory technical details IS our fun.

I find it hilarious that people all over seem to deride what we try and represent and that is fine. However, this treatment all seems very much against the homebrew mantra, but I guess that’s OK when others opinions don’t meld with your own. Somehow we are the assholes when we express our points along with citations.

It’s time to call a spade a spade as we are not on the same planet. It’s OK and we don’t have to be! You do you!  Our goals and outcomes are vastly different and it should be left at that.

We could care less how you brew, honestly, and we can’t say that enough. Brew however you want!

I think we as a whole need to get back to the basics of beer making.

I feel we need a hard reset in what America deems beer.

I conclude,  we should have a shootout and you only get Barley, Hops, Water and Yeast. Lets separate the men from the boys.

Ok, I’m over it now,  and sorry for that rant. This has a point though, the point is why I love the Reinheitsgebot. It doesn’t let your shitty product hide behind some mango, sea salt, marshmallow, milk, lactose, black, sour IPA Stout hybrid. I am being facetious, of course, but the sad part is that I am sure if I looked long enough I could probably find a brewery making something like that. Horribly sad, I know, but unfortunately very true.

Beer is a sum of all its parts, where as every aspect of the beer (from recipe, to brewing process, fermenting, and finally consuming) represents a part of a points system.  It’s all about being able to tally the most points possible. Here is why I feel the processes I follow, get me the best results I can.

  • You MUST understand your raw ingredients.
  • You MUST understand how to process your raw ingredients.
  • You MUST properly ferment your beer.
  • You MUST properly handle your finished beer.
  • You MUST properly serve your properly made beer.

I put those in bullet points because they are broad topics and I want to break them down a little, but still keep it pretty high level.

You MUST understand your raw ingredients. 

Understanding your raw ingredients is the foundation of a well made beer. Knowing water, malt, hops and yeast’s interactions and subtleties are paramount in the recipe making process. How much of this, how much of that? Is it stylistically proper (if you are trying to make German beer and following the BJCP the answer will be a resounding no but that is a rant for another day)? How do these ingredients integrate with my brewing style? A recipe made for decoction will not necessarily be the same for a recipe made for step mashing. You have to understand it all with no guesswork. I will argue that the only part of the process of beer making that allows for some artistic flare is this one. Except you can’t paint your picture with a wide brush.

You MUST understand how to process your raw ingredients.

Reading malt analysis sheets and understanding things like gelatinization temps, protein content, and malt pH are just some of the things you need to take into consideration. Contrary to popular opinion mashes are completed for the grain lot and NOT THE BEER STYLE. You are processing malted barley.  No two barley lots are the same, therefore, your mashing should reflect that. Had a dry growing season? That will alter your barley (and hops for that matter) parameters. Therefore properly understanding malt analysis is paramount, as this sets your fermentation and finished beer profile.

You must understand how this mashing process is setting this profile so you know how to hop the beer and how much alcohol and body will be there. This is a sliding scale where you have to balance these as per the style of beer you are making.

How are you mashing? How long? How long are you boiling? At what intensity? What kind of wort profile are you creating? Is the wort clear and trub free? Does it have the proper nutrients for the yeast?  All these are questions you need to not only ask yourself but be very familiar with as they dictate what levers are at your disposal and when/how you pull them. This is really where the scientific aspects of beer making starts to take over.

You MUST properly ferment your beer.

Now that you have set your wort profile on the hot side of the process, its time for the yeast to do its work. Have you made them happy in their new environment? Do you have enough yeast to do the job? What is the degree of fermentation needed for the proper finished profile? Did you account enough on the hot side hopping for fermentation loss? Are you lagering? Did you hop enough to account for that? Will your yeast be strong enough to carbonate for you? Which yeast? What temperature?

Fermentation is perhaps the most important aspect of brewing. It sets the table for many important final attributes of the beer and can make or break the flavor profile you tried hard to set. It is another whole set of complicated levers that deserves its own post.

You MUST properly handle your finished beer.

Oxygen is the enemy of beer, not just here, but at all stages. Proper purging, carbonation, and storage of the beer is paramount.

You MUST properly serve your properly made beer.

So you put in all the time and effort into making this beer and it comes to serving it. Is it at the proper temp? Is it poured properly? What kind of glass? Dirty Shaker pint? Ever notice in Germany how nearly every beer has its own specific glassware? That glass was usually made specifically for that brewery and that specific beer style. The beer gets this treatment because of the effort made produce it. Its meant to be looked at, to be admired by all. They are proud of it and it’s the showcase of a raw beer made the hard way with no hidden flaws. This new trend of finding some random weird glass and filling it to the absolute brim with some off color opaque mess that is staling before your eyes, next to some generic can with some home printed fancy stick on label is atrocious.

Congrats you made a murky beverage that doesn’t taste like beer! How hard was that?

I’ll take one of these over that any day.

But maybe I am a hater. Maybe I like my beer to taste like beer and my orange juice to taste like, well, orange juice of course!

Now for people still following along, I hope you are saying, “What in the hell did any of those bullet points have to do specifically with the Reinheitsgebot?” Well, you ask a good question. In short, they don’t! It’s really just solid brewing process.

I would argue that the Reinheitsgebot takes it a step further as they can’t use any adjunct grains, kettle fining agents, beer fining agents, bottle CO2, etc.  Which means they have to be all the more strict and stringent on the process. However, it all boils down to a solid brewing process. I dare anyone to take a survey of say 50 German brewers, and 50 American brewers asking them specific proper brewing practices. It would be a landslide and the current state of “beer” products shows it.  I don’t mean to knock all American brewers, there are some that are very up to date on proper brewing practices, and are turning out revered beers.

It all circles back to the bullet points above and that is really what I am getting at. It’s all about understanding the hows and whys.

The Reinheitsgebot makes you focus on fully understanding the beer production process and separates the men from the boys. It’s the hardest way, yet rewards you the most.

I guess, I just really wish more breweries cared about the product they produced.