I’ll have a Bitter, Bitte

It is widely agreed that there are certain things the Germans can do very well: cars, for example; household appliances; being efficient; and most definitely beer.

Sweeping cultural statements aside, the Germans are certainly proud of their beer. They would like to tell you this is down to the Reinheitsgebot, a Bavarian beer law dating from 1516. Literally translated as ‘purity requirement’, it stated that German beer should only be made from barley, hops and water and formed the basis of legislation that spread slowly throughout Germany.

Written at the time when beers were spontaneously fermented, you will notice a missing ingredient. Yeast wouldn’t appear in the Reinheitsgebot until after Louis Pasteur started messing around with micro-organisms in the 19th century.

In 1993 it was replaced by a more up to date beer law, which allows some ingredients such as wheat malt and cane sugar, but no longer allows unmalted barley. There are also different rules for bottom and top fermented beers, and one or two exemptions. It’s all a bit complicated.

Anyway, it is a useful marketing tool and has resulted in the belief that German beers are of a very high quality, and that German beer drinkers are protected by its strict control.

However, there are those who complain (brewers mainly) that it can be quite restricting in terms of innovation. For example, there are more than 1,300 breweries in Germany, more than in any other country, yet relatively few beer styles. Many traditional styles, such as spiced beers from northern Germany and fruit beers, were made extinct when the Reinheitsgebot was brought in.

But despite this, some excellent German beer styles have survived, and with them some excellent beers.

Here we have outlined a few of them:

Originally, German wheat beers were forbidden by the Reinheitsgebot. Happily things have moved on, but brewers still don’t tend to add coriander or spices to their wheat beers (as the Belgians do). Today, wheat beers in Germany are made with around 50 per cent wheat and are extremely refreshing.

This Article is from Beers of the World Issue 11, and the rest can be found here. 

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