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.

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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.