Beerista: Is it time for Germany to change their 500-year-old ‘purity’ law?

The anniversary of the country’s Reinheitsgebot is reigniting debate over its relevance as the craft market expands

It tasted like beer, it looked like beer and yet it wasn't "officially" beer. Or so I realised during a recent visit to a bar in Kreuzkölln, Berlin, while sipping a locally made craft brew that broke the rules of Germany's Reinheitsgebot or "purity" law. Add anything other than the four magic ingredients – water, barley, hops and yeast – and you can't call it beer.

The Reinheitsgebot, which celebrates its 500th anniversary this year, has long been regarded as a mark of quality in German beer. But with the rise of new craft beer styles and flavours, questions about its relevance have resurfaced. Has this ancient law become an impediment, stifling innovation in the brewing heartland of Europe?

Supporters will argue that there is ample room for experimentation within the rules, with plenty of German varieties of ales and lagers. There are also exceptions to the rule which allow, for one, wheat beers.

Imported beer is unaffected, meaning German consumers can buy new US or other experimental craft beers, but German brewers are restricted from innovating or adding, for example, coffee or chillies, to their beers. All the while, the craft scene is growing in Germany with new microbreweries popping up, labelling any non-compliant beers as "ales" or "specials" – and craft beer leaders Stone and Brewdog have also recently set up shop in Berlin.


As I sampled another local brew, this time a sea salt and lime Gose – a modern take on a German regional specialty beer – I was undecided on the issue. The Germans make some excellent beer, so why the need for change? But then what's the harm in more creative freedom?

Back home, I picked up two very tasty, quality Irish beers, Rascals' Yankee White IPA and Independent's Connemara Cascade – both have a creative twist yet only one is Reinheitsgebot- friendly (the Cascade). But does it matter?