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.