Is The Reinheitsgebot A World Treasure?

A few eyebrows were raised on the news that the German Brewers Union have submitted a bid to have the Bavarian purity law designated a UNESCO world cultural treasure. Probably because when one thinks of UNESCO and heritage, images such as Stonehenge tend to come to mind. However, UNESCO expanded its remit in 2008 to include things such as customs and traditions. And this is where the purity law, the so-called Reinheitsgebot, comes in.

According to the statue, first enacted in 1516, only water, barley and hops are to be used in brewing. The president of the Brewers Union, Hans-Georg Eils, said: “It is thanks to the beer purity law that Germany, up until today, is unchallenged as a beer nation. It guarantees purity, quality and salubriousness.” Of course this is nonsense as the purity law actually allows for (perhaps understandably) yeast as well as things such as wheat malt, cane sugar and no longer allows the use of unmalted barley.

The measure probably had more to do with controlling what the peasants did with their malted grains than with any concerns about beer quality. And it certainly doesn’t work as a modern quality control. But this hasn’t of course stopped the Reinheitsgebot being marketed for all its worth; and the Brewers Union bid has backing from experts at the University of Bayreuth and the Technical University in Munich.

With each bid taking up to two years, the hope is that the award will be in place in time for the 500th anniversary of the law’s creation. This not might be plain sailing, though; as a bid in 2011 was rejected and other German states are also bidding. North Rhine-Westphalia’s applications, for example, were Beethoven, who was born in Bonn, and traditional shooting clubs (Schutzverein).

If the bid is accepted, then the Reinheitsgebot will join an exclusive club containing such luminaries as the Argentine tango, the French gastronomic meal and, erm, Turkey’s Kirkpinar oil-wrestling festival.


Barry Masterson said…
Saw this in our regional paper this morning. My initial thought was "what a load of bollox". Still is! :)

They used the term (and this is my translation) "non-material heritage".
RedNev said…
The reality of a purity law is that all the beers will taste rather similar. This is just making a status symbol out of an antique law designed (according to Wikipedia) "in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains to barley was meant to ensure the availability of sufficient amounts of affordable bread, as the more valuable wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers."

Brewers can still brew using the ex-law and advertise their products as complying with it; they don't need this. It's all rather like when Newcastle Brown was granted protected brand status under EU Protected Geographical Status laws. (Laughably, when production was moved away, they had to apply to have the status cancelled)
Barney Rubble said…
Ridiculous and shows what a waste of space Unesco is
Barry Masterson said…
Barney, I would say it's more an indication of the German Brewers Union/Club taking their golden calf to the next level. They cling to it as if it was handed down by the gods, and woe betide anyone who thinks otherwise :)

RedNev, much as I think the gebot is simply a marketing gimmick these days, I came to realise it doesn't limit what can be done. It's German conservatism that limits what most German brewers brew, not the gebot. Though that Brewers group definitely uses it as a status symbol. Recently they more or less said that gebot-brewed beer is the only beer guaranteed to be "safe". :|
Tandleman said…
Yes Barry is right. Within the limits of the gebot there is plenty a brewer can do if they want to and have the imagination. There are no technical problems really.

Germany is so conservative. Of course that's a great leap forward from the past!

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