When I got home from work yesterday I spotted a photo of a beer on the cover of the free local paper that gets shoved in our letterbox every Wednesday. Of course I had to look (I don't normally) and it turns out today is Tag des Deutsches Bieres, celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Reinheitsgebot -- the Bavarian Purity Law -- by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria in 1516. You all know the story. Implemented partially as a mechanism to stop brewers and bakers competing for wheat and rye, and partially to stop brewers using crazy stuff like poisonous and psychoactive mushrooms, the Reinheitsgebot was eventually forced upon the whole of Germany by the Bavarians in 1871 as they wouldn't play with the rest of the German states unless the Reinheitsgebot was applied to all the states that were unifying under the guidance of Otto von Bismarck (a Prussian should have known better). Actually, it was the formation of the German Empire with Wilhelm I, the Prussian King, at the helm with Bismarck as his Prime Minister.
Most people here don't seem to realise that it didn't apply to the vast majority of the German State till then, and indeed, it was rolled out gradually, so it didn't achieve total control till 1906 and became enshrined in the tax laws only by 1923. So, historically pretty recent for most of Germany, but very well embedded in the German beer-psyche by now thanks to marketing really. I know there are lots of people who realise that the Reinheitsbegot does not guarantee good tasting beer, and they make their choice every day to choose one brand over the other, with pretty much all beers made here proclaiming that they follow the gebot.
In 1987 the Rineheitsgebot was declared to be uncompetitive by the European Court of Justice, as it prevented beers that did not follow this law from being imported to Germany. The court decided that labelling laws were more than sufficient, and the purity law wasn't actually protecting consumers as such. The gebot was lifted as law, and the beer laws expanded to include anything that would normally be allowed in food. Of course, breweries can still follow the gebot and these beers are apparently protected as traditional food.
One thing I am not sure about though is whether you can really go ahead an just use anything you want and call it beer, as there have been cases where brewers have had to fight, for years in some cases, to have their beer officially recognised as beer because of an ingredient that was not in the Reinheitsgebot. It would seem not. However, it is also clear that things are not always as they seem on the label.
The original text of the Reinheitsgebot allowed barley, hops and water. I won't go into the yeast thing, because clearly they didn't know about it then, so fair enough. But they did not specify malted barley. This was added to later revisions. Wheat is also conspicuous by it's absence, and indeed, it should be absent, as this declaration was also keeping the bakers and brewers from competing for it. But it's allowed now for top fermenting beers. Sugar may also be added to top fermented beers in some states, but it's not allowed for bottom fermenting beers anywhere. Addititives like polyvinylpolypyrrolidone for clarifying beer can be used, but apparently it's ok as they get filtered out later. Oh, and you can always apply for special dispensation if you make a "special" beer, and I believe Gose falls under that category as it contains salt and coriander. I've also had beer that had E numbers and sweetners in it, Pupen-Schultzes Schwarzes, but they didn't quite say Bier on the label!
For me however, pretty much every day is German Beer Day -- I have little choice really-- and I don't have any particular desire to celebrate the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot. But, if it means there are events going on involving good beer and food, that's always a good thing.
I actually intended writing about a beer, but somehow it turned into a lecture of sorts. Sorry! For some interesting and entertaining reading, have a look at Ron Pattinson's guide to the Reinheitsbegot and extinct German beer styles, the latter of which is kind of sad reading, but great for showing to German colleagues.