Day of the Beer Purity Law: 23 April 1516

DOSSIERS
Beer Purity Law  The wording
The historical background
Day of the Beer Purity Law
The German brewing trade
Alive and well throughout the centuries…

Regulation and inspection demonstrably contributed to continuous quality improvement of the beer. Continuing the line of this happy trend, the meeting of the Bavarian Estates on 23 April 1516 – a gathering of knights and landed gentry – in Ingolstadt summoned by Duke Wilhelm IV decreed the Beer Purity Law for all Bavarian brewers. The strict guild supervision of quality had given the brewers of North Germany a position of dominance in the market. Now the situation was changing. Bavaria soon caught up, to the advantage of South German beer and brewing law. Interesting to note that Germany once applied two different legal systems in respect of beer:

Civil law and Guild law in the North

Beer in mediaeval North Germany was considered to be “people’s nourishment” and was subject to the civil law that had formed in the urban centres and successfully represented the townspeople against the nobility and clergy. This explains why rules and regulations on beer should, first and foremost, be a matter for municipal authorities and guilds.

Regional law in the South

In the South, however, regional rulers had a direct influence on all decrees concerning beer. This happened to be unusually positive in the case of the Reinheitsgebot, since it took immediate and full effect throughout Bavarian territory. Fiscal aspects did not enter into consideration in this decree. A tax on local beer was not introduced in Bavaria until much later (1572). The strict law did, however, impose a binding quality standard for all Bavaria and closed the door against watered-down and adulterated beer. The Bavarian Reinheitsgebot gradually found favour and application in other parts of Germany, even if the Bavarian system was not simply adopted in unaltered form. The general intents and purposes of these laws were the same as in Bavaria but – for a variety of reasons – the letter of the law was now not quite as precise.

… the Hamburger Brauordnung 1695

Like, for instance, in the new Hamburg Brewing Law of 1695, holding the South German model up to the brewers and impressing upon that, “… they must brew good, wholesome beer, spare no endeavour to procure supplies of the best quality grain and produce each brew according to the rules …”.

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