Apr 232016


Breweries in Germany traditionally celebrate National Beer Day on April 23. On this day in 1516, the “Reinheitsgebot” or “Beer Purity Law” came into force in Bavaria. That makes today the 500th anniversary. According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. With some important changes, this law is still widely in effect in Germany. The 1516 Bavarian law also set the price of beer (depending on the time of year and type of beer), limited the profits made by innkeepers, and made confiscation the penalty for making impure beer.


The text of the 1516 Bavarian law is as follows (translated):

We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1069 mL] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller = one-half Pfennig].

If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass.

Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley, WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned.

The Bavarian order of 1516 was introduced 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 affordable bread, because wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers. It may also be that the rule had a protectionist role, since beers from Northern Germany often contained additives that were not present in Bavarian beer. Religious conservatism may have also played a role in adoption of the rule in Bavaria, to suppress the use of plants that were allegedly used in pagan rituals, such as gruit. The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as adding soot, stinging nettle and henbane.

While some sources refer to the Bavarian law of 1516 as the first law regulating food safety, this is inaccurate; earlier food safety regulations can be traced back as far as ancient Rome. Similarly, some sources claim that the law has been essentially unchanged since its adoption, but as early as the mid-16th century Bavaria began to allow ingredients such as coriander, laurel, and wheat. Yeast was also added to modern versions of the law after the discovery of its role in fermentation.

beer2 beer1

Historically, the restriction on ingredients led to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the domination of the German beer market by pilsener style beers. Only a few regional beer varieties, such as Kölner Kölsch or Düsseldorfer Altbier, survived its implementation. However, modern versions of the law have contained significant exceptions for different types of beer (such as top-fermented beers), for export beers, and for different regions.

More recently, German brewers, and some German politicians have argued that the Reinheitsgebot has slowed Germany’s adoption of beer trends popular in the rest of the world, such as Belgian lambics and Euro-American crafted beers. In March 1987, in a case brought by French brewers, the European Court of Justice found that the Reinheitsgebot was protectionist, and therefore in violation of Article 30 of the Treaty of Rome. This ruling concerned only imported beer, so Germany chose to continue to apply the law to beer brewed in Germany.


After German reunification in 1990 the Neuzeller Kloster Brewery, a former monastery brewery in the East German town of Neuzelle, Brandenburg, was warned to stop selling its black beer as it contained sugar. After some negotiations the brewery was allowed to sell it under the name Schwarzer Abt (“Black Abbot”) but could not label it “bier”. This decision was repealed by the Federal Administrative Court of Germany through a special permit, and after legal disputes lasting ten years (known as the “Brandenburg Beer War”) Neuzeller Kloster Brewery gained the right to call “Schwarzer Abt” “bier” again.

The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany. In addition, the law allows the use of powdered or ground hops and hops extracts, as well as stabilization and fining agents such as PVPP. Top fermented beer is subject to the same rules with the addition that a wider variety of malt can be used as well as pure sugars for flavor and coloring.

The law’s applicability was further limited by a court ruling in 2005, which allowed the sale of beer with different ingredients as long as it was not labeled “beer”. Exceptions to the current rules can be sought, and have been granted to allow gluten-free beer to be labeled as beer despite the use of different ingredients.

I’ve never been a fan of German pilsners and bottom fermented beers in general, either for drinking or cooking. Not enough flavor or body, especially when cooking beef or pork.  Chicken, however, is a potential mate for pilsner or lager, so I have adapted a German recipe for chicken and dumplings to incorporate German beer. I have given several chicken and ale recipes in previous posts.



They are of my own devising based on old recipes. So this one is in the same vein. This version of chicken and dumplings is not at all like the version from the U.S. South (which is closer to chicken and noodles). I just invented this for lunch today using a German recipe as a base. Here’s my heuristic description which you can modify as you wish.


©German-Style Chicken and Dumplings

Cut a chicken in 8 parts (removing the backbone), and sauté in a little olive oil (or lard) to brown on all sides. Place in a heavy pot with a leek (green and white parts) sliced thickly, and a chopped onion. Add a half and half mix of chicken stock and German beer.  Add a handful of chopped parsley. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer and cook covered for 40 minutes. Do not overcook. You want the meat juicy yet tender.


While the chicken is cooking make the dumplings. Mix 1 cup of all purpose flour with 4 tablespoons of chopped suet or shortening until they are evenly blended. Add chopped fresh parsley and salt to taste. Add cold water a little at a time and mix to form a stiff dough. Roll the dough into small balls with floured hands and drop them into the cooking broth with the chicken. They will cook in about 10 minutes (depending on size).

Serve in deep bowls with a green vegetable as a side dish, and crusty bread.

Dec 052015


Today is Krampusnacht (Krampus Night). In Germanic folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure who punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas (6 December), who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts. Regions in the Austrian diaspora feature similar figures and, more widely, Krampus is one of a number of Companions of Saint Nicholas in regions of Europe. The origins and early history of the figure are unknown. The usual nonsensical speculations about “pre-Christian traditions” gets unshipped of course, based on zero evidence. In a brief article discussing the figure, published in 1958, Maurice Bruce wrote:

There seems to be little doubt as to his true identity for, in no other form is the full regalia of the Horned God of the Witches so well preserved. The birch—apart from its phallic significance—may have a connection with the initiation rites of certain witch-covens; rites which entailed binding and scourging as a form of mock-death. The chains could have been introduced in a Christian attempt to ‘bind the Devil’ but again they could be a remnant of pagan initiation rites.

Hmmm, “little doubt” eh? I have A LOT of doubt.


Discussing his observations while in Irdning, a small town in Styria in 1975, my former professor at UNC, John J. Honigmann, wrote:

The Saint Nicholas festival we are describing incorporates cultural elements widely distributed in Europe, in some cases going back to pre-Christian times. Nicholas himself became popular in Germany around the eleventh century. The feast dedicated to this patron of children is only one winter occasion in which children are the objects of special attention, others being Martinmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and New Year’s Day. Masked devils acting boisterously and making nuisances of themselves are known in Germany since at least the sixteenth century while animal masked devils combining dreadful-comic (schauriglustig) antics appeared in Medieval church plays. A large literature, much of it by European folklorists, bears on these subjects. … Austrians in the community we studied are quite aware of “heathen” elements being blended with Christian elements in the Saint Nicholas customs and in other traditional winter ceremonies. They believe Krampus derives from a pagan supernatural who was assimilated to the Christian devil.

He ought to have known better than to write such drivel. Folklorists at UNC at the time could have set him straight, but I doubt he would have listened. At the time he was completely dismissive of my credentials (an arrogant upstart). He is quite correct that children are a central feature of many winter celebrations in Germanic regions, but then takes completely at face value what 19th-century European folklorists and local villagers have to say about these customs. I despair. Honigmann was a very accomplished anthropologist in areas he knew something about.


Krampus activities in Scandinavia, Alpine Germany, and Austria are well documented from the 16th to the 19th centuries, but in the 20th century, successive Austrian governments discouraged the practice. In the aftermath of the 1934 Austrian Civil War, the Krampus tradition was prohibited by the Dollfuss regime under the Fatherland’s Front (Vaterländische Front) and the Christian Social Party. In the 1950s, the government distributed pamphlets titled “Krampus is an Evil Man”. Towards the end of the century, a popular resurgence of Krampus celebrations occurred and continues today. The Krampus tradition is being revived in Bavaria as well, along with a local artistic tradition of hand-carved wooden masks. There has been public debate in Austria in modern times about whether Krampus is appropriate for children.

Although Krampus appears in many variations, most share some common physical characteristics. He is hairy, usually brown or black, and has the cloven hooves and horns of a goat. His long-pointed tongue lolls out. He carries chains, sometimes said to symbolize the binding of the Devil by the Christian Church. He thrashes the chains for dramatic effect. The chains are sometimes accompanied with bells of various sizes. He also carries ruten, bundles of birch branches to swat children with. Sometimes Krampus appears with a sack or a washtub strapped to his back; this is to cart off evil children for drowning, eating, or transport to Hell. Some legends make mention of naughty children being put in the bag and being taken. This part of the tradition can also be found in connexion with other Companions of Saint Nicholas such as Zwarte Piet.


A Krampuslauf is a run of celebrants dressed as the beast on 5 December night, with alcohol often playing a part. It is customary to offer a Krampus schnapps or other strong drink. These runs may include perchten, similarly wild spirits of Germanic folklore, which may be male or female, although the perchten are historically associated with the period between the winter solstice and Epiphany.

Europeans have been exchanging greeting cards featuring Krampus since the 1800s. Sometimes introduced with Gruß vom Krampus (Greetings from the Krampus), the cards usually have humorous rhymes and poems. Krampus is often featured looming menacingly over children. He is also shown as having one human foot and one cloven hoof. In some, Krampus has sexual overtones; he is pictured pursuing buxom women. Over time, the representation of Krampus in the cards has changed; older versions have a more frightening Krampus, while modern versions have a cuter, more Cupid-like creature. Krampus has also been used to decorate postcards and candy containers.


In Styria, the ruten bundles are presented by Krampus to families. The twigs are painted gold and displayed year-round in the house—a reminder to any child who has temporarily forgotten Krampus. In smaller, more isolated villages, the figure has other beastly companions, such as the antlered “wild man” figures. These Styrian companions of Krampus are called Schabmänner or Rauhen.

A toned-down version of Krampus is part of the popular Christmas markets in Austrian urban centers like Salzburg. In these, more tourist-friendly interpretations, Krampus is more humorous than fearsome. In the parts of Slovenia, whose culture was affected historically by Austrian culture, Krampus is called parkelj and is one of the companions of Miklavž, the Slovenian form of St. Nicholas.


Krampus festivities are mostly associated with strong drinks, but the time of year is also associated with Christmas cooking. So here’s a recipe for Bavarian lebkuchen, a favorite of mine at this time of year. They are made from a kind of gingerbread that is soft and chewy, but with the same general flavor.


Lebkuchen were reputedly invented by monks in Franconia, Germany in the 13th century. Lebkuchen bakers were recorded as early as 1296 in Ulm, and 1395 in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). The latter is the most famous exporter today of the product known as Nürnberger Lebkuchen. Local history in Nuremberg relates that emperor Friedrich III held a Reichstag there in 1487 and he invited the children of the city to a special event where he presented Lebkuchen bearing his printed portrait to almost four thousand children. Historically, and due to differences in the ingredients, Lebkuchen are also known as honey cakes (Honigkuchen) or pepper cakes (Pfefferkuchen). Traditionally, the kuchen are quite large and may be 11.5 cm (4.5 in) in diameter if round, and larger if rectangular.


Since 1808, a variety of Nürnberg Lebkuchen made without flour has been called Elisenlebkuchen. It is uncertain whether the name Elise refers to the daughter of a gingerbread baker or the wife of a margrave. Her name is associated with some of the Lebkuchen produced by members of the guild. Since 1996, Nürnberger Lebkuchen is a Protected Designation of Origin and must be produced within the boundaries of the city.




250g plain flour
85g ground almonds
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml clear honey
1 lemon, finely grated zest
85g butter
½ tsp each ground cloves, grated nutmeg and black pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp baking powder


100g icing sugar
1 egg white, beaten


Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl, including the lemon zest, and mix well. Heat the honey and butter in a pan over low heat until the butter melts, stirring constantly. Pour the honey and butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix to form an homogeneous batter. Cover and leave to cool.

Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Make about 30 balls (3cm wide) with your hands, then flatten each one slightly into a disk. Divide the kuchen between two baking trays lined with baking parchment, leaving room for them to expand. Bake for 15 mins, then cool on a wire rack.

You can decorate the kuchen in a number of ways, including simply dusting with icing sugar. To coat them with icing, prepare the icing by beating together the icing sugar, egg white, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold water. The resultant mix will be quite runny. Pour a small amount on each kuchen and spread it evenly with a cake knife. Let it dry in a warm, dry place