500 years of the German beer purity law – Bavarian beer an export hit

Bavaria is celebrating – and with good reason. In 2016, the State celebrates the anniversary of one of its most important export hit: Bavarian beer. 500 years of the German purity law for beer is more than enough reason to toast the golden hop beverage everywhere.

However, the anniversary is not only an example of Bavarians' love of indulgence, but also of their economic ambitions. After all, the beer purity law of yesteryear was intended to ensure that the beer market wouldn't be flooded with low quality imports. The Bavarian law from April 23, 1516 is the world's oldest consumer protection law that is still valid. Until that point, it was safe to assume that drinking beer could be considered to be a gamble since the unsuspecting guest never knew what exactly the pub was serving. From belladonna to poisonous jimsonweed to wood chips, soot or pitch – in the best-case scenario, the “creative” ingredients spoiled the beverage experience or, in the worst case, your health and even life could be seriously endangered.

Bavaria as the cradle of Germany's beer culture

Individual regional or local predecessors to the German beer purity law already existed long before 1516; Munich began creating regulations on beer brewing in 1361, as did Augsburg in 1156 under the rule of Emperor Barbarossa. The version known today and still in effect, however, is the success of dukes William IV and Louis X in applying regulations on beer brewing from Ingolstadt across regional borders and making compliance with them mandatory. In this form, the law stipulates that the only ingredients in beer can be barley, hops and water. Many might wonder where yeast comes into play. Since yeast was merely a by-product of the brewing process according to the notion of the time, no one saw the need to list it separately. It only become known as of the 19th century and Louis Pasteur that yeast is essential for fermentation and must be added extra.

The German purity law for beer had three goals in mind in particular: The general public should be protected from both inflated beer prices as well as from inferior ingredients. A third side effect of the law was that wheat, as a staple food, was absolutely essential for producing bread and could no longer be “misused” for brewing beer.

In the following centuries, the purity law evolved, which made Bavarian beer an export hit. On June 7. 1906, it came into effect nationwide and unadulterated in all of Germany. The German purity law for beer not only protects Bavarian beer, but also the European Union, since Bavarian beer has become a protected geographical designation as a part of “Europe's culinary heritage”.

Living tradition

Since the Bavarian purity law for beer was a resounding success, brewers throughout the State of course refuse to miss out on the opportunity to celebrate the anniversary in proper fashion. For example, the Festival for 500 years of the Bavarian purity law for beer takes place in Munich. From July 22 to 27, the Bavarian Brewers' Association and Bavaria's private breweries offers a colourful spectacle about everything relating to beer and show how the tradition continues to develop. Anyone interested can already toast to Franconian beer in May in Nuremberg and call on the local beer festival. And Ingolstadt won't be denied the right to point out where the purity law for beer comes from with year-long events We say: Cheers to “Gemütlichkeit”!