500th Anniversary Of The Reinheitsgebot

reinheitsgebot bavaria-coa
It’s hard to believe it’s been 500 years since Bavaria signed what’s considered the first food purity law, the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the Bavarian Beer Purity Law, and later the German Beer Purity Law. That’s because in 1516, when the law was decreed, Germany did not yet exist, and wouldn’t for nearly 300 years, with the formation of the German Confederation in 1815, longer if you go by the German Empire, founded in 1871. Modern Germany consists of sixteen federal states, called Bundesländers, of which Bavaria is one.
And it was in Bavarian town of Ingolstadt on April 23, 1516, that William IV, Duke of Bavaria wrote and signed the law, along with his younger brother Louis X, Duke of Bavaria. That 1516 law was itself a variation of earlier laws, at least as early as 1447 and another in independent Munich in 1487. When Bavaria reunited, the new Reinheitsgebot applied to the entirety of the Bavarian duchy. It didn’t apply to all of Germany until 1906, and it wasn’t referred to as the Reinheitsgebot until 1918, when it was coined by a member of the Bavarian parliament. But while today most people think of it as all about food purity, that was in reality only a small part of it, and probably not even the most important.


Here’s a translation of the Reinheitsgebot, from a 1993 issue of Zymurgy:

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 [St. George’s Day], 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, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. 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 markets 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.

Notice that the first two decrees have to do with pricing and when beer can be sold. It isn’t until paragraph six, the second last one, that the issue of what ingredients will be allowed comes up. If it had been the most important part, is seems more likely they would have led with it. Even then, it wasn’t about purity, but again commerce. Barley was designated as the only grain so that others, notably wheat and rye, were set aside to be used for baking bread.

Also, a lot of hay has been made about it not mentioning yeast, with the idea that it was because yeast wasn’t discovered until Louis Pasteur in the 19th century. But early brewers did know something about yeast, even if they didn’t have the full scientific understanding that came later. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to make consistent batches of beer. At the end of your brew, you’ll find a layer of billowing foam and other indeterminate matter at the bottom of the fermenter, which the Germans called “Zeug,” which means “stuff.” And early German brewers had a person, called a “hefener,” whose job it was to scoop out the Zeug, which was in effect the leftover yeast, and pitch it in the next batch of beer. So it’s hard to say they didn’t have some understanding of yeast.

A German postage stamp celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot in 1983.

The Germans, of course, have set up a website for the 500th anniversary, and so does the Bayerischer Brauerbund, which is a a Bavarian brewers trade group along with the German Brewers Group. They also created a 50-second film marking the anniversary.

And the media is covering the Reinheitsgebot’s Quincentenary. A few examples include the BBC, Food and Wine, NPR, Spiegel, and Wired. But by far the most thorough examination of the Reinheitsgebot was by Jeff Alworth in All About Beer magazine, Attempting to Understand the Reinheitsgebot.


It’s great that it’s been 500 years, and that German brewers are justly proud of the Reinheitsgebot. It’s clearly helped create the unique German beer scene and their many native styles. But it’s also been used as a shameless marketing tool, been used as an exclusionary tactic, and has even had little-known exceptions to its rules for years, ones that most people are not even aware of, not to mention the use of other items in the brewing process that are also not mentioned by the law, but which because they’re not strictly “ingredients” more modern brewers have interpreted as not being prohibited.

Many people have voiced criticisms against it over the years. One that’s particularly thorough is The German Reinheitsgebot — Why it’s a Load of Old Bollocks. The German magazine Spiegel’s recent coverage is entitled Attacking Beer Purity: The Twilight of Germany’s Reinheitsgebot.

Back in 2001, Fred Eckhardt wrote an entertaining tale for All About Beer entitled The Spy who Saved the Reinheitsgebot, about how a brewer was able to prove Beck’s was using adjuncts and was not in adherence with the German law.

In another recent article in First We Feast, Sam Calagione, of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, is quoted with an opinion I suspect many American brewers hold. “I hate the concept of the Reinheitsgebot, but I am essentially happy it exists.”

Deutsche Post’s 2016 commemorative stamp.

Patent No. 5009082A: System For Cooling Beer For Remote Dispensing

Today in 1993, US Patent 5009082 A was issued, an invention of Martin J. Abraham III, for his “System For Cooling Beer For Remote Dispensing.” Although it’s not strictly speaking, a beer patent, it is somewhat related, and it was too interesting not to include. Here’s the Abstract:

A system for cooling beer to be dispensed from a container housed in a preliminary air cooled environment that is cooled with a primary heat exchanger includes a first flowline for dispensing beer from the container and an auxiliary heat exchanger having a glycol reservoir for receiving the first flowline, the first flowline traversing the reservoir in heat exchange relation therewith. The second flowline includes at least a pair of side-by-side internal bores having a first bore in fluid communication with the first flowline downstream of the glycol reservoir and a second bore carrying glycol from the reservoir in close proximity and in heat exchange relation with beer in the first bore, the second flowline being extended in length so that beer and glycol can travel to remote positions away from the container. A spigot is provided for dispensing the beer at the remote position after transmitted thereto via the second flowline. The first flowline includes one or more fittings forming connections between the container and the reservoir that produce substantially laminar flow between the container and the reservoir.


Patent No. 698184A: Method Of Refining, Aging, Mellowing, And Purifying Alcoholic Liquors

Today in 1902, US Patent 698184 A was issued, an invention of James Franklin Duffy, for his “Method of Refining, Aging, Mellowing, and Purifying Alcoholic Liquors.” Although it’s not strictly speaking, a beer patent, it is somewhat related, and it was too interesting not to include. There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

My invention relates to a certain improved method or process for the treatment of liquors in the same particulars as is usually accomplished through a considerable period by the ordinary aging process.

Under the term liquor as used herein I include all alcoholic or spirituous fluids, either distilled or fermented; and it is the purpose of the invention to purify said liquors,to eliminate all injurious qualities therefrom, and to supply the ripe, pure, and mellow qualities which time alone has done heretofore.

The invention consists in the treatment of the liquor by means of the various steps of the process, all of which will appear from the description and be clearly pointed out in the claims.


Patent No. 3129730A: Tapping System For Liquid Container

Today in 1964, US Patent 3129730 A was issued, an invention of John F. Simon, for his “Tapping System For Liquid Container or the Like.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention relates to a tapping system for liquid containers or the like such as, for example, casks having a gas-charged beverage or other liquid therein. In particular, this invention relates to a quick coupling and uncoupling tapping system for new beer kegs or the like or for the conversion of conventional beer kegs or the like to provide prompt placement of liquid containers in service, the removal thereof from service when substantially empty and the maintenance of prompt and sound delivery of the liquid during service in optimal condition.


Patent No. 2280336A: Protector For Beer Can Openers

Today in 1942, US Patent 2280336 A was issued, an invention of Herman J. Maihack, for his “Protector For Beer Can Openers.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention relates to protectors for beer can openers, and the like, andy has for one of its objects the production of a. simple and efficient means in the nature of a hood or cap which is adapted to be carried by a piercing can opener so as to overhang the pierced opening within the top of a can and prevent the spray of beer or other liquid outwardly through the opening which is being cut in the top of the can.

A further object of this invention is the production of a simple and efficient means for attaching the protector to the well-known type of piercing opener.


Patent No. 473248A: Valve For Beer-Coolers

Today in 1892, US Patent 473248 A was issued, an invention of Moses Bensinger, for his “Valve For Beer-Coolers.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

My invention relates to valves for closing the opening provided in beer-coolers for the reception of the cock of a beer-keg after it has been introduced into the cooler. In beer coolers provided with an opening of the above description, when the keg has been removed from the cooler, the opening is uncovered and warm air may readily pass to the inside of the refrigerator, causing a great Waste of ice.

The object of my invention is to provide a valve for use upon refrigerators which will automatically operate to close the opening above referred to whenever the keg is removed. I accomplish this object as hereinafter specified and as illustrated in the drawings.


Patent No. 20120093992A1: Apparatus And Method For Stripping Wort

Today in 2012, US Patent 20120093992 A1 was issued, an invention of Peter Gattermeyer and Christian Dorr, assigned to Krones Ag, for their “Apparatus and Method For Stripping Wort.” Here’s the Abstract:

An apparatus and a method for stripping wort, with the apparatus including a receptacle that has a wort inlet and a wort outlet, and a heater on the side wall of the receptacle as well as a distributor device which applies the wort to the heating surface of the heater, such that the wort runs down the heating surface as a film.




Patent No. 7028505B2: Cooling Device For Beer Pitcher

Today in 2006, US Patent 7028505 B2 was issued, an invention of Clement Albert Maus, for his “Cooling Device For Beer Pitcher.” Here’s the Abstract:

A beverage chiller device for a serving pitcher has a lower stainless steel cylinder and an upper food-grade plastic sleeve. The upper end of the device is open to receive ice. A flexible strap attached onto the upper sleeve has a free end that can pass through a handle of the serving pitcher, with the lower end of the device immersed in the beverage and situated at a base of said pitcher. The flexible strap forms a closed loop that secures the chiller device to the serving pitcher. The flexible strap also permits the chiller device to pivot when the pitcher is tipped for pouring, so that the device remains more or less erect, and so meltwater does not pour out of the chiller device when the customer is pouring a drink from the pitcher. The flexible strap allows the stainless steel cylinder to drop down to the base of the pitcher, so the cylinder remains immersed in the beverage at the bottom of the pitcher.


Patent No. 256717A: Apparatus For Drawing Beer

Today in 1882, US Patent 256717 A was issued, an invention of Clement Albert Maus, for his “Apparatus For Drawing Beer.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

The object of my said invention is to draw beer, ale, &c., from the keg or other vessel in which it is held without liberating the gases therein contained; and it consists in the construction and arrangement of parts hereinafter described and claimed.


Patent No. 2155134A: Fermentation Process

Today in 1939, US Patent 2155134 A was issued, an invention of Walter Karsch, for his “Fermentation Process.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention relates to a fermentation process for the production of alcohol from liquids containing carbohydrates.

The invention provides that the total quantity of yeast shallrbe led positively and continuously in a circuit through a fermentation system consisting of a mixing device and a separating device in this wise that the total quantity of .yeast is moved unidirectionally from the mixing device to the separating device and back to the mixing 5 device. Preferably, after a predetermined controllable time, each yeast particle passes through the separating device and thus comes in contact, with fresh particles of sugar. The yeast is thus for a short time only free from the material to be fermented. The fermented liquor, after a predetermined controllable time, and after once traversing the fermentation system, leaves the said system beyond the separating device. It has been found that yeast can operate continuously in this process because it is removed as rapidly as possible from the conversion products formed. The loss of yeast cells observed with discontinuous fermentation practically does not occur in the present process. The mixing oi the yeast and of the liquor to be fermented is as intimate as possible, so that the conversion of the sugar to alcohol and to carbonic acid is effected with the greatest rapidity. At the exchange surface–the yeast membranes-by the intimate admixture the conversion products formed are withdrawn and new sugar molecules added.

By the flow through the fermentation system in the direction from the mixing device to the separating device it is further ensured that each yeast particle is separated positively after a predetermined time from the conversion products and is mixed with fresh sugar particles. No yeast particles can move in the fermentation system otherwise than in the desired direction, or settle, which is of great importance for the attainment of a maximum output of alcohol. Likewise the fermented liquor is led positively to the separating device, so that the result is obtained that the nocuous conversion products formed are separated as soon as possible from the yeast.

In the preferred embodiment the liquor is subjected to an after-fermentation in the interval between the mixing of the yeast with the liquor to be fermented and the separation of the yeast from the fermented liquor.