It was on April 23rd, 1516 that William IV, Duke of Bavaria (Duke Wilhelm IV) issued a proclamation which would eventually become the ‘Reinheitsgebot‘ (beer purity law); the oldest food law still in use today.
The ruling outlined the conditions under which beer could be legally produced within Bavaria, setting a standard which is aspired to by brewers all over the world today. The aims were to keep a cap on prices, to avoid extortionate rates, as well as outlawing the use of wheat in beer (to allow for more bread to be produced). It also placed strict regulations on what could be used as an ingredient in beer, keeping it to a limited range of natural products.
The proclamation states:
“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: 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 controls maintained a level of quality and taste which became synonymous with the region, making Bavarian beer a staple of the diet. Wheat beer eventually became available in Bavaria, but was strictly controlled for many years. Restrictions still exist on the sale of home-brewed beers, but Bavaria had to begin importing foreign beers, ales and lagers under EU law. This did not diminish the popularity of the local brews, however, and they have become even more popular of late.
Bavarians pride themselves on tradition and their beer is no exception, with the Reinheitsgebot forming the cornerstone of the impeccable taste and simplistic brewing practices which are utilized. With the explosion of craft and artisan beers in the last decade, it is no wonder that many microbreweries are now attempting to emulate the Bavarian method, abstaining from unnecessary chemicals and additives.