500 Years of German Beer Purity

Beer Toast
Johannes Simon/Getty Images News

Germans are serious about their beer.  And, they've been serious about their beer for a very long time.  500 years long, to be exact.  

In 2016, Germany will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, or the German Beer Purity law.  In 1516, the Bavarian council decreed that "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."

The law was set in place to protect bread-making products, such as wheat and rye, from falling into the hands of the breweries.  Though originally meant to keep wheat and rye from being squandered, over time, the law has come to act as a symbol of German beer purity and excellence.  

Today, most German brewers still abide by the Reinheitsgebot and its terms, ensuring that German beers consist only of barley, hops, water, and yeast (added to the law in the 17th century).  The German Brewers Association has been fighting hard to get UNESCO approval of the Reinheitsgebot as part of the Intangible Cultural Hereditary Lists, which has recognized French gastronomy and Korean kimchi making.  

While the Intangible Cultural Hereditary Lists do not have the same notoriety as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO seeks to raise awareness of these intangible elements and help protect them, especially for those intangible elements that are in urgent need of safeguarding, such as traditional manufacture of cowbells in Portugal.

 The German Brewers Association hopes that UNESCO recognition will raise awareness of the unusual importance and purity of German beers.

To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, the following food events and festivals are taking place across Germany in 2016:

  • From February 19 to July 24, 2016, the exhibition "Bier, Braukunst und 500 Jahre deutsches Reinheitsgebot" (Beer, the Art of Brewing, and 500 Years of the German Reinheitsgebot) takes place in Mannheim.  The exhibition showcases the history and background of the Reinheitsgebot and its importance today.  The exhibition is shown at the Technoseum (Museum of Work and Technology.)
  • From April 22 to April 24, 2016, the festival for the 500th anniversary will take place in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, where the law was signed on April 23, 1516.
  • From July 22 to July 24, 2016, a lavish beer festival will be celebrated in Munich with over 100 breweries attending and traditional Bavarian folk music present.