Thursday, 23 April 2009

Happy German Beer Day!

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.


Pivní Filosof said...

"and partially to stop brewers using crazy stuff like poisonous and psychoactive mushrooms"

That has always sounded like a myth to me. I am not saying that there weren't any brewers selling beers with toxit stuff, but I don't think they were as common as some people would like us to believe.

Even before Reinheitsgebot, commercial brewing was pretty regulated, so it seems rather unlikely that someone could have got away with brewing poisonous beer even then. Perhaps they were clandestine brewers, if so, Reinheitsgebot never applied to them.

The current German beer law says that only malted barley, water and hops can be used for bottom fermenting beers and for top fermenting malted wheat ad rye and sugars are also allowed. That is why some brewers have to fight long and hard to get their beers to have the word "bier" on the label.

That they didn't know the yeasts is another myth. Yeasts have been known to brewers for a very long time. There are many documents older than Reinheitsgebot that prove it. The reason why they were not included is that they were not considered an ingredient. Pilsner Urquell still doesn't consider yeast as an ingredient. They claim that it's because they are revomed after fermentation is done. Which is a funny way to see things, the beer wouldn't be as it is if it was spontaneously fermented or if different yeast strains were used.

Barry M said...

Doesn't matter if it was common or not, it was seen as reason enough for them to start this whole thing. And there's plenty of stories from other places where brewers were less than customer friendly where it came to ingredients. Even in Ireland! Gasp!

Yes, I noted the "exceptions" to the rules later in the post (forgot to add rye though), and while yeast may have been known about as a substance that did something, would it be fair to say that they didn't know exactly what it was?

Bear in mind I'm pretty far from being a Reinheitsgebot apologist.

Anonymous said...

One proof that they needed such laws was is that we are talking about a country where they mix cola and orange juice in ther beers. Ugh!

Pivní Filosof said...

They knew very well what the yeast did. I think it was in zythophile that I read about a document that mentions brewers switching from bottom to top fermenting according to the season, and it does predate 1516.

They might have not know how, or why (though I suspect some beer alchemist knew that very well already), but they were very familiar with the what the yeasts did and they knew already that using different yeasts affected the quality of the beer.

One reason I believe "toxic" beers were not all that common to justify writing a law to prevent people from brewing them is that the original text does not mention it. It only says that beers brewed with ingredients other than the established will be confiscated. The Bavarians already took their beer very seriously back then and if the toxic beers were in any way common, they would have been mentioned and severe punishments would have been set for those brewing them.

To me Reinheitsgebot was basically drawn to protect bakers and to make it easier for the government to tax the beer. It was the same in England I can't remember when now.

But whatever it is, it never dealt with the quality of the product. Processes are never mentioned and to me they are far more important than ingredients.

Barry M said...

What I actually said above was they may not have known "what it was" . I would have thought they knew what it did in some way, as it was necessary. I always reckoned the auld magic stirring stick or keeping sediment for it to kick off again was certainly well know for thousands of years. Although Martyn Cornell (Zythophile) says "Although brewers knew that yeast was essential for fermentation, they had no idea what it did, and no clue as to the actual nature of yeast". See link below. Anyway, my point in my post of "fair enough" was more who cares if it wasn't listed in the gebot back then. Do we really care now? And it's been updated anyway!

Of course it was mostly to stop competition between bakers and brewers and increase tax intake, but the specification of hops might suggest that other items were being used for bittering, and it's quite likely that some of these would not have been the best for you (not necessarily toxic in small doses so to speak). It's equally clear that a vast majority would have been very tasty and interesting, and indeed the likes of Keut using mixtures of herbs survived in other parts of Germany for quite a while, like in many other places. Actually, Martyn's Amber Black & Gold lists some really interesting ones that I know TBN would probably like to try. He has an unhopped beer fetish :D

A similar English law was in 1697 by the way, apparently introduced to keep the army and navy big enough to fend off a potential French invasion, as malted barley was taxed. According to Martyn this put an end to a wheat beer tradition in England. Shame. Again, see his book, Amber Gold & Black if you haven't yet (I'm guessing you have).

Regarding the history of yeast, Martyn writes about it here.

I was thinking about what you said about Pilener Urquell not listing yeast as an ingredient. It's the same reason some of the German brewers don't list the clarifiers and stuff. And indeed, they would be different beers if they weren't clarified and pasteurised. As long as they taste good I don't care though.

If only they had coca cola back then it could have been included in the banned materials! :)

On an aside, Ron Pattinson's list of extinct German beer styles was a really useful tool for me to expand the minds of some of my colleagues beyond the Gebot in German terms. So much so that we determined to make a cherry beer with cherries from a colleagues garden. That's the kind of Happy German Beer Day there should be.

Keep the comments coming!

Pivní Filosof said...

I guess I misunderstood you thinking you were meaning what I've seen countless times "yeasts were not included because they weren't discovered yet". I've always wondered if those who write that piece of sillyness ever took a moment to think how people baked bread before 1857 or whenever it was that Pasteur said "eureka".

Ron's post on the extinct or endangered German styles is an eye opener and a fantastic read that should be mandatory to all those that still believe that the 'bot was the best thing that has ever happened to beer.

Barry M said...

Hmm, easily done. It was a badly constructed sentence and not very precise :) THing is, yeast has always been there, and it didn't need some bloke with a microscope to discover it. Bit like gravity :D

Speaking of using yeast in ancient times, you might be interested in some of the theories about Fulachta Fiadh, what I knew as ancient cooking sites in Ireland (I surveyed a good few n a previous life, when I was a surveyor that is!), and the experiments this group did in brewing using them. These date from c. 1500- c. 500 BC. Crazy sods :D