Saturday

Beer and "The Reinheitsgebot"

At the very least you should know how to pronounce it. "Rine-Hites-gaBoat"

Most Americans are probably familiar with the "German Beer Purity Law" only because it has been mentioned in Samuel Adams beer commercials. Not long ago, it was completely irrelevant to the American beer scene, but the current popularity of micro and craft brews in the U.S. and Canada has made "Reinheitsgebot" a meaningful term in discussions about North American beer.

So what is this Reinheitsgebot thing all about?

First of all, it should be understood that the Reinheitsgebot is the oldest food regulation in the world and that it still exists today. Translated to English, the word "Reinheitsgebot" essentially means "purity law."

In the middle ages brewing beer was a primitive science, but by the 15th Century it was also becoming a very lucrative industry. Brewers looking to make greater profit often used cheaper ingredients of mixed variety to achieve their financial goals. Unscrupulous brewers would add fruit, herbs, eggs, tree bark, fish bladders and who knows what else to their beer. As a result, beer was frequently foul tasting and occasionally poisonous. In a beer-loving country like Bavaria a purity law was desperately needed.

The first regulation appeared in Augsburg, Bavaria sometime in the 1490's. Establishments that served bad beer or dishonest amounts of beer would be fined and their beer destroyed. In 1516, Bavaria's reigning Duke Wilhelm IV expanded the Augsburg regulation to cover all of Bavaria, creating the world’s first Pure Food & Beverage Law. The "Reinheitsgebot." Thanks to the regulation, Bavarian beers quickly became renowned for their superior quality. Eventually all the lands of Germany enforced the regulation.

The Reinheitsgebot stated, in brief, that only pure and essential ingredients be used in beer. The only ingredients allowed were barley, hops and water. Today, of course, yeast is also recognized as a vital ingredient. Yeast was a brewing element whose effect was not understood at the time the law was written. In the 1500’s, brewers utilized naturally occurring, airborne yeast and attributed fermentation to the will of God.

Hops:
It is a perennial herbaceous plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to the cold-hardy rhizome in autumn. Hop shoots grow very rapidly and at the peak of growth can grow 20–50 cm per week (1 to 3 inches per day). Hop bines climb by wrapping clockwise around anything within reach, and individual bines typically grow between 2 to 15 m (6 to 50 feet) depending on what is available to grow on. The leaves are opposite, with a 7–12 cm (2¾ to 4¾ inch) Petiole and a cordate-based, palmately lobed blade 12–25 cm long (4¾ to 10 inch) and broad; the edges are coarsely toothed. When the hop bines run out of material to climb, horizontal shoots sprout between the leaves of the main stem to form a network of stems wound round each other.

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