Germans take their beer seriously. So serious that they created the Reinheitsgebot, a beer purity law. The correct way to pronounce “Reinheitsgebot” is: “Rine Heights Ge-Boat”. In short, this purity law, originally enacted in 1516, is a series of regulations limiting the ingredients in beer in Germany and the states of the former Holy Roman Empire.
There are technically two different beer Purity Laws that German breweries might be following: The Bavarian Reinheitsgebot or the German Reinheitsgebot. Sometimes called the “The Bavarian Purity Law” or “German Beer Purity Law” in English. The distinction between the two Purity Laws is made not only because Germany didn’t exist as a country in 1516 (that only happened in 1871), and therefore there was no “German Reinheitsgebot of 1516”, but also because the two Purity Laws are objectively different with respect to the ingredients allowed in making beer.
The Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516 states the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be barley, hops and water (This means no added adjuncts). Yeast wasn’t discovered until years later, but once discovered it was added to the list.
The German Reinheitsgebot of 1872, the most lenient of the two, states that Lagers may only contain barley malt, hops, water, and yeast. Ales may include barley malt, hops, water, yeast, pure cane sugar, beet or invert sugar, modified starch sugar, and coloring agents derived from any of the aforementioned sugars. Many German breweries will often specifically indicate on the beer label which of the two Purity Laws their beer falls under as you can see on the images below
The law was aimed at preventing crops used to make bread from being squandered on brewing, reserving wheat and rye strictly for bread But over time, it became synonymous with high-quailty German beer. However, Critics of the old German beer purity law like to point out that the Reinheitsgebot in itself did not guarantee a quality beer, and that it limited the types of beers that could be brewed and sold. Wheat beer, Weizenbier, and most dark beers are technically in violation of the purity code. Though, the Reinheitsgebot did serve to keep German beer from being adulterated with other ingredients often found in non-German beer.
Until 1987, the Reinheitsgebot was part of German law. It was also the oldest food quality regulation in the world remaining in force. But Germany, as a member of the European Union (EU), was forced by a court decision to change the law in order to allow free trade of goods within the EU. (Non-German brewers viewed the Reinheitsgebot as a form of protectionism for German breweries.) Nevertheless, many German brewers still abide by the Reinheitsgebot.
Currently, some 5,000 different beers carry its seal. Many brewers today still make beer that would pass muster under the law, though penalties for breaking it are long gone. Many Germans embrace the purity law as a proud German tradition.