Berliner Weisse Gipfel

Today was the 3rd Berliner Weisse Gipfel (Berliner Weisse Summit), a beer festival in Berlin dedicated to Berliner Weisse and related sour beers resp. beers inspired by Berliner Weisse. The event location is particularly special for that beer style, as Willner Brauerei, one of the large Weisse breweries in Berlin at the beginning of the 20th century, originally had their brewery and malting house located there. Nowadays, Bogk Bier and Schneeeule have put up their tent and have started brewing Weisse again.

At the festival itself, both local and foreign breweries had stands, and served some fantastic beer. I haven’t taken many notes, but one brewery particularly stood out. Oedipus Brewing from Amsterdam had a 4%ABV Weisse called Vogelen, dry-hopped with three different C hops which nicely accentuated the beer’s sourness. This was probably my favourite. Of similar quality was their Gandalf Red with Pink (?), a Berliner Weisse fermented on cherries, and then further matured in a red wine cask with Brettanomyces. Wonderfully complex, with just a hint of cherry, and a nice tartness.

Oedipus Brewing menu

Oedipus Brewing’s brewer, Sander Nederveen, also held a very enthusiastic talk about wort souring techniques. Too much was said to summarise the whole talk, but let’s just say: they’re doing cool stuff with Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces, and they’re not afraid of the funk.

Sander Nederveen speaking

Another interesting thing that was offered was a tour through the old brewery building. Willner Brauerei was an active brewery from the second half of the 19th century until 1990. Unfortunately, much of the brew kit has been removed shortly after closure, and transferred to the brewery museum that Schultheiss had opened up in Kreuzberg. Even worse, that museum was closed in 1994, and the exhibits were put into the Kindl-Schultheiss brewery storage facility in Hohenschönhausen.

Of what’s still there, the malthouse could be visited. I found the kiln to be particularly interesting: the green malt was put on an upper level floor, consisting of a rather fine metal grid. There, the first low-temperature kilning happened. The malt was then transferred through a small hatch down to the lower level floor made of the same kind of metal grid. That’s where the second, high-temperature kiln was done. All kilning was done with hot air, so no malt ever had direct with the fuel or any of its fumes.

All in all, it was a pretty well-organized festival, and I’m looking forward to next year. Talking to all the local homebrewers I met there, Berliner Weisse brewing seems to be up and coming. And last but not least, I took some bottles with me that I’ll be aging: first of all, the Gipfel-Weisse, a collaboration brew of Bogk Bier and Schneeeule, which is a Berliner Märzen-Weisse. Then a regular Berliner Weisse by Schneeeule, with the name Marlene. Another highlight of which I had to take a bottle was Meerjungfrau by Rügener Insel-Brauerei, a medium sour beer with a great complexity that reminded me of Gueuze. It’s refermented in the bottle with Champagne yeast, and combined great complexity with a good drinkability. And last but not least, the Berliner Weisse by Biermanufaktur Potsdam. I picked this one because it had something going on that intrigued me. Let’s see how this one develops.


Brewing a Historic Berliner Weisse

It’s March, and I’ve been wanting to brew a Berliner Weisse for quite a while. So what better time to brew a Märzen-Weisse?

Relatively little is actually known about Märzen-Weisse. What is known is that it’s a stronger version of a regular Weisse. In his 1947 brewing notes, the brewmaster of Groterjan brewery mentioned a high-gravity version of 16-18 °P that some breweries produced occasionally. I don’t know whether that’s the Märzen-Weisse strength, but it definitely sounds intriguing.

For this brew, I teamed up with Franz Pozelt of Slowfood Berlin, to do one Weisse according to my recipe, and then one Weisse according to his recipe. Last Sunday was the first of two brewing dates.

We started off with a historic Berliner Weisse recipe that calls for 20 parts pale barley malt, 10 parts wheat malt, and 2 parts oat malt. We didn’t know where we’d end up in terms of gravity (because it’s a no-boil recipe, see below), so we used 4 kg Pilsner malt, 2 kg pale wheat malt, and 400 g oat malt.

The mash schedule was also based on historic methods: with dough-in at about 40 °C, we then slowly rose the temperature until we reached 50 °C to rest for 15 minutes. Then we continued to slowly heat up until we reached 62 °C, which we held for 45 minutes. We then drew a thin decoction and boiled it for about 5 minutes. At this point, we also added the hops, literally 3 leaves of Hersbrucker, to boil it. Mash hopping is another historic method in Berliner Weisse.

We then mixed the decoction back to raise the temperature to 72 °C, held that temperature for another 15 minutes, and then moved the mash to the lauter tun. With enough vorlauf to achieve a bright and clear wort, we then went on to sparge. Since this was going to be a no-boil Berliner Weisse, we didn’t know what efficiency to expect, so we simply collected enough wort until we reached 16 °P.

The wort was then heated up to 95 °C, and the temperature held for 20 minutes. This was a bit of a compromise, as older recipes lauter directly to the cooling tub resp. the fermentation vessel, but the Groterjan brewmaster mentions this as a possibility to prevent beer infections (such as Pediococcus) without having to resort to a boil. Interestingly, the resulting wort had 17 °P. That may be due to a measurement error earlier, and we didn’t mix the wort properly before (my experience is that during lautering, the runnings don’t mix well, most likely due to different specific gravity, so you get wildly different measurements with the refractometer depending where you take your sample).

Right after that, the wort was transferred to the fermentation vessel, and cooled down to 30 °C.

Fermentation itself is where my approach deviates from history: to better control the resulting sourness, I decided to sour the wort with a big starter of Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus buchneri, and when sourness will have approached a good level, yeast will be pitched. I decided for US-05, as it’s a relatively neutral ale yeast which has been shown to successfully ferment even in wort with a pH level of 3.38, plus it’s cheaper for me to get several sachets of it than e.g. a single vial of WLP029 or a smack-pack of Wyeast 1007.

Since the brewday went without any issues, the lacto is doing its work now, and I’ll keep measuring the pH levels and tasting the souring wort. The yeast will be pitched when the sourness is right. In addition to that, the fermentation vessel was used to ferment and mature a batch of porter with Brettanomyces, so I expect an infection with B. claussenii, as well, which is perfectly fine for the style.

I’ll report about any results. At the moment, the lactobacillus is slowly fermenting away, producing some CO2. I suppose that’s fine, as L. buchneri is heterofermentative.

Mannheimer Braunbier

After my research of Horner Bier, I took more interest in trying to reconstruct other historic beers. In “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann Carl Leuchs, I stumbled upon Mannheimer Braunbier, which is, as the name says, a brown beer that used to be brewed in Mannheim.

The typical brewing process for the beer is the Rhine method which was common around Mannheim, Frankfurt and Strasbourg. The malt is doughed in by underletting a mix of boiling and cold water. The water to grain ratio is relatively low, while the initial mash temperature is 30 to 50 °C, depending on the brewer. Then boiling water is added, until stirring is easier, and the mash is constantly stirred for 45 minutes. Then wort is drawn off and poured back onto the mash until the wort is clear. When all wort is drawn off into a cooling tub, more boiling water is added to the mash, a rest of 30 minutes is done, and the second runnings are drawn off into the cooling tub. At that point, the grains are considered to be completely spent, and no small beer is made from them. During the second mash, a bit of wort is taken, the hops are added, and are boiled for 15 minutes. This is called “roasting”. After that’s done, the remaining wort is added from the cooling tub. In the cooling tub, any unclear material like flour shall remain back to make sure a clear wort is boiled. Total boil time is 3 to 4 hours, then the wort is cooled down to about 18 °C, and yeast is pitched.

Leuchs mentions two recipes, one brewed with brown barley malt, amber barley malt and sugar, the other one brewed with equal amounts of brown barley malt and amber barley malt, juniper berries, and ginger. For the latter recipe, Leuchs refers to Hermbstädt, the author of the book “Chemische Grundsätze der Kunst, Bier zu brauen“. Interestingly, Hermbstädt mentions that originally, Mannheimer Bier was indeed brewed in Mannheim, but in 1826 (the year that book was published), was brewed in Berlin, where it was enjoyed as a common, healthy, and nourishing drink. It is described as very clear.

Interestingly, Hermbstädt describes a different mash schedule than Leuchs: in total, 12000 quarts (1 quart is about 1.145 liters) were supposed to be used for mashing to produce just 2000 quarts of beer, with a boil of only 30 minutes. I don’t know how that should work, so I simply don’t believe it. Also the hopping is different: hops and juniper berries are infused in water twice, and that infusion is then added to the boiled wort. When the cool wort is added to the fermentation vessel, chopped up ginger is added along with the yeast. According to Hermbstädt, the beer was drinkable already 8 days after brew day.

Based on this information, I tried to come up with an interpretation of the beer style. I’d leave out any excessive boiling, but I’d keep essential elements like the mash schedule as described by Leuchs, and the distinct technique of hop roasting. As brown and amber barley malt, I’m simply picking Munich malt and Vienna malt. This may not be the truest representation, but it’s the closest what we can get in modern diastatic malts that roughly matches the colour description. The question of how smokey the malts for this beer originally were is not something I’m able to answer, nor am I willing to do a wild guess and produce a smokey beer. As hops, I’m picking Tettnanger as that would be a relatively local hop variety for Mannheim.

So, here’s the recipe:

  • 2.75kg dark Munich malt
  • 2.75kg Vienna malt
  • 180g Tettnanger hops (4% alpha acid)
  • 14g juniper berries
  • 4g ginger root (chopped up)

The day before brewing, smash up the juniper berries and soak them in a liter of water until the next day, then remove them.

Dough in the malt with 10 liters of water to result in a mash at 50 °C. Keep that temperature for 30 minutes, then add another 10 liters of hot water to result in a mash temperature of 68 °C. If that’s too much effort, just add 10 liters of water of at least 50 °C, then heat up to that temperature.

Then do a Vorlauf until the wort is clear, and lauter. Sparge with hot water. Take the first few liters of the first runnings, and bring them to a boil together with the hops, and boil for 15 minutes. Then mix that with the remaining runnings and boil for 90 minutes. At the end of the boil, add the juniper berry infusion, and chill the wort to about 20 °C. Add chopped up ginger to the wort, and pitch an ale yeast. Depending on your brew kit’s efficiency, the resulting beer should come out with about 13.5 °P, 80 IBU and 5.5 % ABV. The bitterness is obviously crazy high, but with some aging, it should subside and smooth out.

As for brewing that, I have no immediate plans to do so. I’m currently planning to brew a Berliner Märzen-Weisse inspired by a historic recipe, about which I will post here soon. If you’re brewing Mannheimer Braunbier though, I’d love to hear about any results.

The Misunderstanding Of The Reinheitsgebot As Tradition

This is part of my series to discuss 500 years of Reinheitsgebot.

The 23rd of April is getting closer, and more media is starting to be interested in and report about the Reinheitsgebot. FAZ, one of Germany’s largest and most influential newspapers, started a blog about beer and the Reinheitsgebot.

In the latest article, they write about Schlenkerla, the classic Franconian brewery from Bamberg that produces a rather unique and tasty smoked beer. They also portray Matthias Trum, member of the family that owns the brewery, who has a background in brewing history at the Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan (here’s the outcome of his diploma thesis). The end of the article contains a paragraph, written by Matthias Trum himself, about his position regarding the Reinheitsgebot. I’ll try to translate it here:

On a first glance, the purity law limits the possibilities of a brewer. In my opinion, you can’t forget that our, i.e. the Bavarian resp. the German understanding of what beer is, is based on this 500 year old law. If a brewer nowadays wants to produce a fermented barley drink with cherry flavour, then it may be an interesting drink, but it doesn’t conform to our grown understanding of beer. I’d find it a pity if such an old tradition like the purity law, even with all legitimate criticism, would be sacrificed to a modern and maybe only temporary trend. The solution would actually be quite simple: where beer is printed on the label, purity law must be in it. If somebody wants to brew anything else, they need to call it differently. Brewers and public authorities/legislative authority/EU would only need to agree.

Well, to put it mildly, this is infuriating. I’m especially appalled by how Matthias Trum, who has a background in beer history, can spout such completely ahistorical nonsense. As I’ve shown before, people in Germany, even Bavaria, have brewed plenty of beer in the last 500 years that doesn’t conform to the purity law at all. Even though a minimalistic understanding of beer as only containing malt, hops, water, and yeast may have been prevalent in Bavaria, it doesn’t reflect reality. And even if you accepted this minimalism as premise, it still doesn’t apply to the rest of Germany until about 110 years ago.

Brewing with other ingredients, such as juniper, marjoram, thyme, oregano, elderflowers, fir tips, birch tips, rose hips, cream of tartar, honey, ginger, gentian roots, bitter oranges, lemons, cardamom, rice, and salt, was common all over Germany. That was the understanding of beer in much of Germany from the 16th to the end of the 19th century. And it’s a sign of a rich and diverse brewing culture. When Matthias Trum claims that “our” understanding – I assume he’s implying the German understanding – of beer is equal to the Bavarian minimalism, then this is not only ahistorical, it tries to erase this rich and diverse German brewing culture outside of Bavaria with a relatively recent trend: pale lager beers only started being produced in Vienna in 1840 and Bohemia in 1842, while in Bavaria, dark lagers were prevalent until the end of the 19th century. Only in 1895, Helles started being served in Munich.

And that is one issue that I have with Matthias Trum’s statement: it claims “tradition” for a relatively recent trend in beer brewing, and it claims “tradition” for beer styles that weren’t even brewed or served in Germany for the majority of the last 500 years.

But it’s part of a pattern that I noticed: Bavarians try to claim the prerogative on how beer is meant to be, and try to force their narrow and minimalistic definition onto everyone else in Germany. I called this the Bavarian Beer Chauvinism. I find this chauvinism particularly heinous because it claims tradition where there is none, it built up a narrative that is not backed up by historical accounts, and at the same time, denies the existence of most of Germany’s brewing culture, at best it draws a distorted picture that beer over 500 years ago was only brewed with bad ingredients or other such nonsense.

Matthias Trum’s suggestion at the end shows exactly that: he’d like to deny using the term “beer” to everyone that refuses to adhere to the Bavarian minimalism. Very broadly and drastically interpreted, this could mean the end of beer in Germany imported from other countries with rich and diverse brewing traditions in Europe: plenty of English beer doesn’t conform to the purity law, as does a lot of Belgian beer, and most likely many brewing traditions, as well. And it’s not just about the straw-man “cherry beer” that Matthias Trum is attacking, there are lots of ingredients that are perfectly safe for brewing that would help brewers in creating new, exciting beers, or even just allow the recreation of historical German beers.

I, for one, would like to see Matthias Trum and his Schlenkerla brewery to recreate a historic Bavarian beer such as Farrnbacher beer, as it was brewed in the first half of the 19th century, and then he will realize how nonsensical the purity law is, and how harmful it actually is both to the history and the future of German brewing.

Horner Bier

Some time ago, I stumbled upon a mention of an Austrian beer style called Horner Bier in some historic brewing-related book, and it got me interested. Deriving from name, the beer was from this small Lower Austrian town called Horn. I have no direct relation to that town (other than an officer in my medical training in the Austrian Army articulating the empty threat that we’d be transferred for disciplinary reasons to the Horn barracks if we didn’t pass the training), but I was nevertheless curious. Apparently, the Horner Bier was an oat malt beer, and quite popular in Vienna in the 18th century (and probably earlier). Just like I got obsessed with proper, historic Vienna Lager a bit, I just had to research this beer, as well.

A starting point is an article that Evan Rail wrote about Horner Bier a while ago. In a book from 1865 by Karl Balling, he found a rough description of the beer:

  • It’s an oat beer
  • It’s very fizzy and refreshing
  • It’s cloudy

Also, Mozart apparently mentioned the beer in some lyrics.

Horner Bier

Looking further, I went through the historic brewing books of which there are plenty available for free on Google Play. A book that I mentioned too often recently is “Vollständige Braukunde“, it briefly mentions Horner Bier as one of the few oat beers still being brewed:

Horner Bier

In another section on Austrian beer, that same book mentions that in 1822, a law was enacted in Austria that prohibited sparging and making beer from second runnings. It makes no mention about the reason, or previous practices. So for at least some time, Horner Bier may have been a no-sparge beer.

Looking further, the book “Die Staatswirthschafts-Chemie” briefly mentions Horner Bier, as well, in particular that it was made from unkilned, air-dried oat malt (Hafer-Luftmalz), and that it was slightly sour.

Also, in a book about Vienna from 1808 with a title too long to mention here, Horner Bier is mentioned as one of three beer styles common in the city. In this account, it is mentioned as containing very little hops and a small amount of cream of tartar.

Horner Bier

So, to summarize, what is known about Horner Bier is that it was made from oat malt, it was fizzy, cloudy, considered refreshing, slightly sour, contained only a small amount of hops, and also a bit of cream of tartar was used in its production. It would be interesting to see measurements of original and final gravity, or perhaps even a historic recipe, but my research hasn’t surfaced anything like that. I’ll probably attempt to brew a version of it for the Berlin Homebrewers meetup in September with the theme of historic beer styles.

(thanks go out to Lars Marius Garshol who encouraged me to write down my few findings on Horner Beer)

Historic German Beers That Did Not Conform To The Reinheitsgebot

Bamberger Bier

Bamberger Bier in the early 19th century sometimes had salt added to get it to clarify more quickly.

Braunschweiger Mumme (Brunswick Mumm)

This historic German beer style used to be a popular export product. Besides wheat and barley malt, other ingredients were used, such as juniper berries, marjoram, thyme, and plums. Other sources mention fir tree bark, fir tips, birch tips, burnet, elderflowers, and rose hips.

Farrnbacher Bier

This beer from Bavaria was reportedly brewed with sugar, juniper berries, and cream of tartar.

Kottbusser Bier

In this beer, the barley malt, wheat malt and oat malt was augmented with honey and sugar.

Mannheimer Braunbier

Brewed with juniper berries and ginger.

Merseburger Bier

Brewed with gentian roots and bitter oranges.

Schwedisches Bier (“Swedish beer”)

This beer was brewed in Germany, and besides the usual ingredients of barley malt, wheat malt and oat malt, brewers also used oregano and honey.

Spandauer Bier

This beer was brewed with sugar.

Weißes Stettiner Bier

Also brewed with sugar.

Weinartiges Weißbier (“wine-like white beer”)

This wheat beer was brewed from two different types of wheat malt, barley malt, oat malt. Besides that, brewers added sugar, cardamom, and lemons. Alternatively, brewers could substitute the lemons with cream of tartar.

Weizenbier (“wheat beer”)

A wheat beer recipe from the first half of the 19th century mentions ingredients such as syrup (it’s unclear which kind of syrup), juniper berries, ginger, and salt.

Baierisches Weizenbier (Bavarian wheat beer)

Wheat beer in Bavaria in the first half of the 19th century used to be brewed with either top- or bottom-fermenting yeast, unlike nowadays. When bottom-fermented yeast was used, Branntwein (brandy) was added. Also, the recipe gives a grist of 2/3 barley malt and 1/3 wheat malt. While only the addition of brandy is strictly against the Reinheitsgebot respectively its modern version, this recipe goes very much against modern norms that are considered to be “traditional”: nowadays, only top-fermenting yeast is allowed for beers containing any other malt than barley, and in order to be called a wheat beer, the grist must contain at least 50% wheat malt.

Source: “Vollständige Braukunde” by Johann Carl Leuchs, published in Nuremberg in 1831.

“Chemistry In The Beer” – The Reinheitsgebot And Unmalted Grains

In a previous article in which I discussed the original source of the Reinheitsgebot, or purity law, I argued that the mention of barley instead of malt is of significance. Any use of unmalted grains is of course rejected by proponents of the purity law, and also the modern beer legislation, the Vorläufiges Biergesetz, codifies malted barley as the only allowed grain for bottom-fermented beer, and malt from any grains for top-fermented beer. In Germany, it is at the moment not allowed to brew beer that contains unmalted grains, adjuncts, or “Rohfrucht” as they’re called in German.

Already back in the 1960’s, the Reinheitsgebot proponents were fiercely against any change in German beer legislation and any attempts in harmonizing German legislation with EC legislation. The great fear was “chemistry” and “chemicals”. First there was the fear of hop extract, then there was the general fear of chemicals, culminating with the infamous Franz Josef Strauß warning about “chemistry in the beer”.

Even today, insists that the use of unmalted grains requires artificial enzymes (see answer to question 2) to convert its starches into fermentable sugars. Nothing is further from the truth. To explain why, I need to talk about why barley is malted in the first place.

The process is malting means that barley kernels are soaked in water. This starts the germination process, the barley basically starts the growth process. This produces enzymes that can convert starch into simple sugars, cell walls in the grain and proteins start to break down, the whole grain is being modified. If the maltster lets this process continue, whole plants would start to grow, and nothing would be left of the grain. That’s why after a few days, the so-called green malt is dried and kilned. Kilning at lower temperatures gets you a paler malt in colour, while kilning at higher temperatures gets you darker malts. The kilning process also destroys some of the enzymes. But brewers need these enzymes to later convert the malt’s starches into simple sugars during mashing. So it is the maltster’s job to produce malt that still contains enough enzymes.

The amount of enzymes in a certain amount of malt decides what amount of starches can actually be converted. This is called diastatic power. Paler malts usually have a higher diastatic power, while darker malts often have a lower diastatic power. Dark malt, like dark Munich malt (used to make dark-brown lagers, the classic Munich style of beer), has just enough diastatic power to convert itself, but not more. A lot of specialty malts, like caramel malts, dark kilned malts, and roasted malts have no diastatic power at all. They always require a certain share of enzymatic base malts to convert their starches.

Diastatic power for malts is specified in either Windisch-Kolbach units (°WK) or degree Lintner (°L). Conversion between the two is easy: °WK = (°L * 3.5) – 16. Usually, about 105-125 °WK (~ 35-40 °L) are necessary in a grist to fully convert all starches. Base malts can range from 140 °L (Pilsner malt) down to 40 °L (Munich malt) in diastatic power. A chart with typical values can for example be found here.

So, in order to brew with unmalted grains, there are two things that you need to make sure: first, you need enough enzymes by adding enzymatic malt into your grist, and second, you need to make sure that the enzymes can reach the starches. Some adjuncts thus need to be cooked or otherwise treated with heat to make the starch accessible. Flaked barley can be boiled, corn can be made into flakes (like cornflakes, except your breakfast cereal is fortified with a whole lot of other things that you may not want in your mash), oats can simply be rolled, while wheat can be torrified.

Calculating how much malt you need is easily. Suppose you have a base malt with 110 °L diastatic power. In total, you need 40 °L in your grist. That means you need at least 100*40/110 = 36.36 % of base malt in your grist, the rest can be unmalted grains. The lower your diastatic power, the higher your share of base malt, and with 40 °L Munich malt, you need 100*40/40 = 100% base malt.

So why is an all-malt grist still promoted? Because of historic reasons. Brewers back in the day could have easily worked with unmalted grains, and probably also did. But back then, even the malt wasn’t quite the sure thing as it is now: maltsters several hundred years ago didn’t have the ability to finely control, measure and evaluate their malt production. Historically, malts were often relatively dark (because it’s hard to finely control kilning temperatures), undermodified (i.e. some of inner structures weren’t properly broken down), and low in enzymes. These types of malt are hard to work with, unless you employ certain techniques. Decoction mashing, as practiced by German brewers for centuries, is one way of making the most out of malts that were badly modified and low in enzymes. In the 19th century, one of the big achievements of continental brewing was to learn how to produce pale kilned malts, but the decoction mashing tradition remained.

British brewers on the other hand, who had known how to produce pale malts for much longer, have traditionally employed a mashing regime which is nowadays often called a single-step infusion mash. The grist is infused in water and rested at a certain temperature. Because the malt is better modified, and relatively rich in enzymes, it can easily convert all the starches without requiring decoctions to make it more accessible. The same technique is employed by most homebrewers nowadays due to the high quality of malt, as well as commercial brewers that try to avoid energy-intense decoction mashes. Adjunct brewing is a well-researched topic in brewing science, and even German scientific brewing literature contains plenty about it.

So, from a purely technological point of view, there is no argument against the use of unmalted grains when producing wort. With some care, adjuncts can be easily used without requiring any artificial enzymes or other “chemistry”. Brewers can also benefit from a wider range of base materials, as unmalted grains often impart slightly different qualities in the beer compared to their malted equivalents. It is not bad per se, nor is it artificial. Rejecting unmalted grains is dogmatism, in my opinion, as it provides and ensures no quality in the beer, but instead just arbitrarily restricts brewing and thus variety.

In the end, the prohibition of unmalted grains in German beer is also an insult to German malting. German maltsters produce a wide range of all kinds of base malts and speciality malts, exactly matching very strict specifications in colour, kernel modification, friability, protein content, diastatic power, and a whole lot of other properties. At the same time, German legislation specifically disallows German brewers to build upon some aspects of this high quality work. And the proponents of the Reinheitsgebot even support that, even though it makes no sense other than to bring up that bogeyman that is “chemistry in the beer”.

Is The Purity Law a Uniformity Law – Does The Reinheitsgebot Prevent Diversity?

This is part of my series to discuss 500 years of Reinheitsgebot.

In this part of my series of “frequently questioned answers”, I will discuss the question of diversity or lack of diversity that comes with the German purity law, as it was brought up in the FAQ on

Question 9: Is the purity law a uniformity law – does it prevent diversity?

Their answer:

Despite the limitation on malt, hops, water and yeast, German brewers have an extreme diversity in ingredients to brew good beer. More than 170 different hop varieties, 40 different types of malt, about 200 different yeast strains, the liquor (brewing water) also has an influence on the beer, just like the brewing method itself. According to them, that gives the freedom to brew 1 million different ways of brewing a beer according to the purity law.

My answer:

If there were a million different ways, then why is Germany’s beer landscape so uniform? Go to an average supermarket, and have a look through the aisles, what do you see? Twenty different brands of Pils, a few Hefeweizen, maybe a Kristallweizen, a Schwarzbier or two, if you’re lucky you’ll find a Helles, a Kölsch and/or an Altbier. In addition to that, the typical “world beers”, generic lagers from major international producers, and maybe bottled Guinness. And that’s it. Some focal points of great, local beer, like Franconia, remain local, and are hard to get in other parts of Germany, with the exception of specialty beer shops, of which there are only relatively few.

And even if you look at these mainstream beer styles, there is very little variation inbetween. In blind taste tests, people consistently fail to distinguish and identify major German Pils brands. I’ve even seen a blind test on German TV where people failed to identify what they claimed was their favourite Pils which they would always buy. This makes all the major brands essentially interchangeable, and the beer market cannot possibly be driven by variety, but by brand reputation only.

So, the question remains: if the purity law were actually an enabler in beer diversity, why is the German mass market so dominated by mostly uniform beer?

How Accepted Is The Reinheitsgebot With German Consumers?

This is part of my series to discuss 500 years of Reinheitsgebot.

This time, we’re discussing consumer acceptance, which is something, as claims, is very high among German consumers.

Question 7: How Accepted Is The Reinheitsgebot With German Consumers?

Their answer:

According to some study, 88 % of all people asked want beer to only be produced from water, malt, hops and yeast. 89 % of all Germans have heard of the Reinheitsgebot, in the East of Germany it is even better known than in West. 77 % of all people asked would like to see a purity law for other foodstuffs.

According to some other study, 79 % of all Germans think that German beer brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot requires special protection.

My answer:

Well, a recently published study paints a different picture: more than 60 % of the over-60 demographic said that the Reinheitsgebot is very important in their buying behaviour. On the other hand, only 25 % of the 30-and-under demographic agreed with that statement. Also, only primarily the older demographic would agree that German beer is superior to foreign beer because of the purity law. Generally, support for the purity law in Germany seems to be going down.

Another thing to point out when people ask for a purity law for other foodstuffs: it already exists. At least in the same form as it exists for beer. Germany has complex legislation that quite strictly regulates what you can and cannot put into certain food, including the requirement to declare everything that is put into the product.

If consumers want a purity law for other foodstuffs in the same restrictive manner as the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, that’s an entirely different matter, though. But then, which consumers would really like to see a limitation in bread ingredients to only e.g. water, wheat, salt and yeast? No other herbs or spices, no other grains, just an arbitrary list of ingredients. Doesn’t exactly sound appealing.

Which Additives Are Prohibited When Brewing According To The Reinheitsgebot?

This is part of my series to discuss 500 years of Reinheitsgebot.

Last time, I wrote about whether German brewers still brew according to the purity law. After a detailed discussion about what is actually allowed according to modern law and how is imprecise and conflates the historic purity law with the modern law that is actually in effect, I will answer a follow-up question to shed more light on what the “according to Reinheitsgebot” thing is actually about.

Question 3: which additives are prohibited when brewing according to the Reinheitsgebot?

We previously established that you’re allowed to use barley malt, hops, water and yeast for bottom-fermented beers, and for top-fermented beers, you can also use malt made from cereal other than barley, various brewing sugars, and food colouring made from sugar. And, what I didn’t mention last time, because it’s such an obscure niche, artificial sweeteners for some low-alcohol beers. in their answer insists that it’s only malt, hops, water and yeast for beers according to the Reinheitsgebot, and say anything else is prohibited, while the EU allows a whole lot of other things to be put into beer. This list contains things from food colouring made from sugar, to lactic acid, to various artifical sweeteners and stabilizers.

Now, what they don’t mention is that the modern Vorläufiges Biergesetz does allow some of these ingredients. And for others, in particular lactic acid, there’s a way how German maltsters and brewers “cheat” the system.

Lactic acid, among other things, is often used to treat the liquor (brewing water) to change the pH level. Lactic acid is naturally produced by lactic acid bacteria, and commercially available in food-grade quality. Now, as a German brewer, you can’t just add lactic acid, so there’s a type of malt, called Sauermalz, that German maltsters produce: the malt is inoculated with lactic acid bacteria, which then produce lactic acid. The malt spec tells you how much lactic acid it contains, and based on how much lactic acid you want to have in your mash, you adjust your grist to use more or less Sauermalz.

But there’s another aspect about the Reinheitsgebot that isn’t very clear about: there’s actually a restriction on what beers you can call “brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (of 1516)”. And it’s not all beers that adhere to the Vorläufiges Biergesetz. No, the use of that phrase is controlled by a different decree with the wonderful name “Zusatzstoff-Zulassungsverordnung“. It regulates what kind of additional things you’re allowed to put into all kinds of food and drinks, including maximum quantities. It also regulates the use of the phrase “nach dem
deutschen Reinheitsgebot gebraut” and says that beer sold under that label can’t contain certain ingredients that are actually allowed according to the Vorläufiges Biergesetz. In particular, it excludes food colouring, sugars, and any other gas than nitrogen and CO2 that has been produced through beer fermentation.

And that’s the mess of how this more strict Reinheitsgebot that vaguely resembles that law from 1516 is implemented within the legal framework that is the Vorläufiges Biergesetz of 1993. It’s a patchwork, it’s confusing to customers that try to understand the legal basis and limits for beer producers, and in the end only comes down to a marketing phrase that brewers can use on their beer labels and their advertising if they restrict themselves even further beyond the limits that are imposed by the law.

But at least we got to bottom of what the marketing phrase “Reinheitsgebot” really means and how it’s implemented legally.