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What is the German Beer Purity Law and is it still obeyed?

German beer law stamp
The Germans are so serious about their beer they made a stamp!
What are the German Beer Purity Laws?

Have you ever been drinking a commercially brewer German beer, been bored with the conversation and decided to read the bottle label? 

Did you spy the wording 'brewed according to the German Beer Purity Law'? 

Did you wonder what the law meant? 

If you thought it meant your beer was brewed by beautiful virgins with long blonde hair, you're probably on the wrong website.

The German (read that as Bavarian) beer purity laws showed just how serious they were (and still) are about brewing their beer. Introduced by Bavarian officials in 1516,  the 'Reinheitsgebot' (as it eventually became known 300 years later) was designed to try and control price competition in the market place. 

German economists, not understanding the complex dynamic of market pricing required that only barely could be used in beer brewing so as to not increase the price of other produce that could be used to make bread, namely rye and wheat.

reinheitsgebot yeast

The key rule of the law is the ingredients:

According to the Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. 

And that's it. Note that yeast is not mentioned. This came much later in the 19th century when it was realised that yeast was pretty vital when making beer

Anti-competitive motives

The 'Reinheitsgebot law' also made rules about the price that beer could be sold as in the bars. This pricing strategy was intended to reduced competition for the ingredients that went into bread being rye and wheat. 

By making the law, the effect was to exclude beer from the wider German states that may have contained other ingredients thus helping reduce competition and allow local Bavarian beer producers to continue as they were. 

To keep in line with the beer law, making pilsner beers became the order of the day, thus laying the foundation for German's proud history of making pilsner.

As a public health measure


It’s often claimed that the beer purity law was the first food safety legislation in the world. This is because the law prevented brewers from adding ingredients that could be considered unhealthy such as rushes, roots, mushrooms, and animal products.

The mushrooms could have some severe consequences for the drinker as the point of imbibing was to a) enjoy a beer and b) enjoy the effect of alcohol and not experience a hallucinogenic experience caused by the mushrooms!

It’s mused that the original intent of the law did not really entertain health concerns but it’s focus was ensuring profits for local Bavarian brewers by keeping out competitive beer makers. 

So is the beer purity law still observed? 

This law was taken very seriously and was observed for 300 years. Eventually, it spread across the whole of Germany.

Yeast was later added to the law when it was identified how vital it was in the beer making process.

When Bavaria entered the German Unification of 1871, it was a condition of their entry that the beer law was carried through. Not even ruler such as Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich dared change the way beer was made.

Even in the more modern era, the law is still strictly applied and this had led to various court cases taken by brewers who want to try new ingredients and brewing processes. 

This has led to several products being made that are beers but cannot have the word 'bier' on their label and also variations on malt and production techniques may be used. 

Faced with the reality international trading obligations, Germany allows the importation of beer that does not comply with the local legislation, however local brewers must still observe the requirements. 

They are however, less stringent that they used to be!

Feel good marketing

The reality of the modern world is that there is no reason to have a beer purity law - local and international competition sort all that out, especially when there is greater supply of product like wheat and rye around the world - so the consumption of beer doesn't effect the price of bread! 

Instead, a passionate beer fraternity still follow the methods for reasons of tradition and more arguably, for a competitive marketing benefit!

Now-a-days, beer brands like Heineken use the reference to the purity law as a means to identify with quality and to align their beer with good bear making ideals - thus giving comfort to the beer drinker they are drinking a quality product. 

It's quite a good tactic given that beer is a global product and traded freely around the world. 

German beer can be held out as being brewed in a certain way and without ingredients that the health (!) conscious beer drinker may be keen to avoid. 

How to keep track of your home brew records & history


An idea to track beer making history

If you are looking to improve the results of your home brewing, you might like to think about keeping a record of what and how you brew.

If you write down what you did, what you used, when you did it and why you'll have a good basis on which to make an honest assessment about your beer brewing failures and successes.

If you find that you've pulled off a stunner of a beer, you might be able to remember just exactly how you brewed that beer. It could be the difference between remembering that you used a certain kind of hops in your brew or used a 50/ 50 split of them.

Or that you left the spoon in the fermenter.

I just wanted to share how I keep my beer brewing records. I use Google Sheets.

It looks something like this:

Beer brewing record keeping

This is basically an excel sheet that allows me to have a set of handy columns as below:

Date DownBrand of MaltMixed withDate BottledNotesFirst tasteFinal thoughts

Recording the date you got the brew down is hugely important because you need to know how long you've left the brew to ferment. Same for bottling. Has it been 12 days or three weeks? 

I also like to know what brand of kit I used and whether it was an ale or pilsner. And of course, did I use a brew enhancer or just dextrose? 

In my summary notes, I record my first taste experience and also final thoughts.

This is because I usually get stuck into the beer at the three-week mark but over time the beer will mature and take on different characteristics - that serves as a reminder to let the beer 'bottle condition' as much as you be patient for!

The beauty of using Google Sheets to record your beer adventures is that you can download the application to your smartphone.

This means you can quickly add records as you go (maybe you're just hiding in the shed?) and you'll reduce the need to remember to add notes to an exercise book somewhere else later on. 

This is just the way I do it, an exercise book is of course just a fine solution!

Once you are a more experienced brewer you might not need to record so much as you'll know everything.

Or will you? 

⇒ What equipment do I need to start home brewing?

What equipment do I need to start home brewing?

What equipment do I need to start home brewing?


If you’ve decided to brew beer, you’re in great company.

Einstein, Churchill, the mighty Thor himself and every man with a shed, has at one point or another, brewed some tasty beverages.

But they all had to start somewhere, and so here’s a list of what equipment you might need to get started brewing beer.

We’re talking about brewing using a beer kit here, the kind of brewing where you ‘beer wort’ basically comes in a can.

You get to choose what hops or sugar you add (jelly beans maybe?) and the rest is simply following some good brewing instructions.

But what do you need to brew some good home made beer?


This list is just the basics, you could probably actually get away with using less but at the very least, this guide should help you decide what you need to get that golden ale flowing down your gullet. 


What equipment you might use on Brew day

Here's a handy checklist for your set up. Not everything is a 'must have' but you must have clean and sanitized gear, no matter what you do.

Ingredients
Equipment for brewing
  • Sanitizer - To sanitize all of your equipment. It’s a must. If you don’t your beer might die. 
  • 6 gallon / 23 litre fermenter (drum or bottle). You will use this for making your beer in 
  • Thermometer - To monitor the temperature of the wort – this is so you can add the yeast at the correct temperature and avoid killing it. *
  • Hydrometer - Used test the original gravity of your batch *
  • Paddle or spoon - Something to stir the boil with, maybe not your wife’s best spoon. A long handle is what you need. Try not to drop it in your batch....
  • Gloves – making beer can get a little messy * Do not use your dad's chainsaw gloves!
  • Can opener – to open the beer kit 
  • Water - Access to both boiling and cold water 
  • Bubble Airlock – to allow the release of CO2 and to assist with the observation of fermentation
  • This is totally optionally and really only for seasoned beer makers, a pH testing kit can be pretty handy.
  • Ph Meter for checking the water as being suitable for use.
  • A good gas Burner for boiling

Bottling day - what you need

  • Bottles! – cleaned and free of dirt and spiders or slugs or bird shit (trust us on this, it’s happened) 
  • Sanitizer – Yes, once again you need sanitize all equipment and bottles and caps 
  • Bottle caps - Make sure they are not twist-off bottles 
  • Bottle capper – speaks for itself, helps you place the caps on bottles 
  • Hydrometer - To measure the final gravity *
  • Priming sugar – Sucrose which is to carbonate the beer while in the bottle (called beer conditioning
  • Bottling wand - This allows you to easily control the flow while bottling and means less spillage will occur. *
  • Patience. Just a little patience.Shit will go wrong, learn from the experience and move on. 
* denotes an optional item of equipment

Also, I'm just gonna randomly add that if you like Mortal Engines, check out the behind the scenes work that goes into the movie.

Guess who left the spoon in the beer fermenter

Just a week after I wrote the 'I think I've contaminated my beer' post, this classic mistake happened. I'd just bottled a handy Black Rock NZ ale and went to clean the fermenter.

I found this spoon inside:

Spoon left in brew fermenter

My wife and I had been looking for that spoon for weeks!

I'd looked high and low and even behind the dishwasher with clearly no luck, and not even thinking that I had used the spoon to stir the beer wort.

I'm fairly confident the brew will be fine, a taste test proved it tasted like beer! Especially as I was a diligent brewmaster and sterilized everything before brewing.

How to make jelly bean beer

how to make jelly bean beer

Did you know you can use Jelly Beans as the sugar for the secondary fermentation? 

It's an amusing exercise to make Jelly Bean beer. The effect on the beer flavoring is interesting as I found that different coloured jelly beans produce different flavours...

First up I would suggest if you are making a 'fancy' beer where you've paid for a more specialist beer kit and you have a pretty sweet hop combo in mind that you don't try to make jelly bean beer with that particular brew.

This is because the bean will likely over power any hop subtleties you might be going for!

However, if you're doing a run-of-the-mill beer kit then while you are doing your normal bottling routine, you may want to have a crack at making beer with jelly beans.

The jelly bean is a substitute for your normal sugar so acts as the carbonation agent in the 2nd fermentation that occurs during bottle conditioning.

First, a wee caution.

It is very easy to over carbonate with jelly beans!

In my personal experience, you should not put more than three beans in one 750 ml bottle. Any more and you will probably get a classic gusher situation when you open the bottle.

So what are the best colours to use? First up, do not use the black ones if you like green beer that tastes pretty horrid! In my experience, black jelly beans are usually aniseed-based so are not really a complementary flavour for beer.

That said, it hasn't stopped people from adding aniseed to beer...

Instead, for this home brew enthusiast, oranges, reds and yellows seem to be fairly fun flavours to carbonate with. That flavour is a sweet sugary taste - albeit one that doesn't overwhelm the whole beer itself.

Greens, blues and purples will be OK but the colour of your brew might be a bit off-putting! Maybe if you were making an ale rather than a lager then the colour wouldn't be too bad.

So yes, despite what you may have heard, you can successfully make home brew with jelly beans, just add them when doing your bottling.

Your results, however, may vary!

Did hear about the guy that brewed with Mackintosh lollies?

How to easily bottle your home brew beer

green beer bottles for home brew

How to bottle and condition your home brew beer 

So once you are sure that fermentation is complete and you've let your beer sit for at least a week after the bubbles have stopped coming through the airlock  (or more properly, taken a gravity reading), then you're ready to bottle your homebrew.

Welcome to the big league boys, you're about to bottle beer!

What you need to bottle your beer
  • Enough bottles. If you have done 23 litres of beer then you would need 30 x 750 ml bottles. 
  • Bottle caps
  • A bottle capper
  • sanitizing agent
  • A big bucket receptacle for soaking bottles in
  • Ordinary sugar
  • Strong hands
What kind of bottles should I use for bottling?

You can use plastic or glass.

I use glass so I can recycle and feel good about saving the planet.

If you hate the planet you can use plastic.

The beauty of using plastic bottles is that if they over carbonate due to non complete fermentation or excessive priming sugar they will only split and not explode.

If you've ever seen a beer bottle explode spontaneously, you'll know what a damn mess it makes with glass everywhere!

You should also bear in mind that not all glass bottles are intended to be used for home brewing so may not be strong enough for both the fermentation process and the capping process so choose wisely - maybe even practice on the odd bottle to make sure it won't crack when you do the capping.

It's time to sterilise again

Just like you did when you prepared the beer batch, you are going to need to sterilize the beer bottles.

This is because the second round of fermentation is going to occur and again the yeast needs an opportunity do to its fermentation thing, free of microbes.

It's this secondary fermentation that puts the CO2 in your beer.

So get all your bottles in the receptacle that you are going to soak them in. I use a plastic washing basket that's big enough to hold all the bottles I need.

I then get some sodium percarbonate and add it to a cup of boiling water so it dissolves quickly.

I then add it to the basket and then get the garden hose and fill it up to the brim.

You will need to wrangle your bottles as they will try and float. Push them down with your hands and make sure they are all submerged to they all get the sanitizer in them.

They say you only need a minimum of 10 minutes to let them soak but having been burned before with a contaminate getting into my beer, I make sure there's little chance at the bottling stage. I leave them in to soak for a few hours and in direct sunlight if bottle.

As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

That or run them through the dishwasher on a hot setting. That's what I do a lot of these days.

If all that seems just too difficult, you just get a bucket and fill it with your sterilizing powder.

You can then just dunk the bottles in, give them a quick swirl, drain the water back into the bucket. You can get the water out of the bottle quickly by giving it a couple of flicks of the wrist in a circular motion - the water will swirl out rather than 'bubbling out.

Whatever you do, when you're happy, drain your bottles and place them where you wish to do the bottling.

Filling the beer bottles

There are two ways you can add the sugar to your beer - you can prime the whole batch in one go by siphoning your beer into a second container and add your liquid sugar as you do so or you can add sugar to each bottle individually.

This is our preferred method as in our experience, it's less mucking around, which seems counter-intuitive but there you go.

A benefit of siphoning and then priming the batch is that there will be less sediment in your beer.

No one likes a beer gusher, so that's why I prefer batch priming as there is less chance of me screwing up.

While many beer brewers will suggest that you use a slightly heaped teaspoon of sugar for each bottle. I personally try and do a little less as some of my beers in the past have been over carbonated, due I think to too much sugar.

I like to use a small funnel to add the sugar in - it's quicker and less messy than trying to get the sugar in using just a spoon!

You are then ready to add the beer.

Simply place the bottle under the tap of your drum and you are good to go. Be wary of fast flowing beer.

Fill the bottles at a level that you would normally expect to see for commercial beer. That's about 40 mm from the top. As I understand it, that will assist with optimum secondary fermentation.

If you have a bottling wand, feel free to use it! Place it inside the tap. You'll need to be firm with it and also be aware that they can suddenly fly out with an open tap - meaning you'll lose beer.

So for that reason, I'd never wander away from the drum when there's a bottling valve in play.

It's also capping day!

When you've filled all your bottles it's now time to cap the bottles.

That process should be self-explanatory and relative to the kind of capper you have. The key thing to remember is to check that each cap has made a satisfactory seal.

If you can hear hissing from a bottle, the seal was not done correctly. Remove the cap and try again with a new cap.

I also mark all the seals with a Vivid or Sharpie so that I know what the particular batch is. This is pretty important when you have different batches and different kinds of beers on the go!

You may wish to give the successfully bottles a gentle tip or two to make sure that all the sugar is in the liquid (not stuck on the inside of the beer neck) and has a chance to dissolve.

Bottling beer can be a time consuming exercise so either make sure you can be free from interruptions or you can choose to bottle in small groups e.g. 5- 10 bottles at a time when you have a spare moment. This won't cause any problems.

The best way to store and condition bottled beer


Temperature has a massive effect on beer both in terms of the brewing and condition.

In terms of bottle conditioning, it's best initially to store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning).

The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days.

HOWEVER, after that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C.

You should then leave the beer for a total minimum of three weeks since bottling date before some well-deserved consumption.

You should not easily dismiss this advice about correct temperature storage of your beer. I had an experience last year when in the middle of winter I just bottled the beer and left it in the shed for about a month.

When I when to crack open the first beer, there was no fizz, just cold flat beer.

No fizz on the second or third either.

I thought I had ruined my beer somehow. 'Had fermentation actually occurred'? I wondered. Of course it had. The problem was the cold. I brought the beers inside and left them in the living room. I waited a week for the yeast to warm up and do its secondary fermentation thing, and boom I had fizzy beer!

Winning.

The longer you wait, the better your beer will be.

Sunlight


Never store your beer in direct sunlight. The UV radiation can cause a chemical reaction to occur, making your beer taste awful or be 'skunked'. This particularly occurs for green bottled beer. Brown bottles not so much. Either way, you still need to keep your beers at the correct temperature and leaving them in direct sunlight will screw that up. 

Have I contaminated by beer (and can I rescue it?)

Help, I think I have ruined my beer!

Have I really contaminated my beer?

It only takes one bad batch of contaminated beer for beer enthusiasts to be converted to the mantra of 'sterilization is mandatory'.

And that's the best approach you can have when brewing beer.

Keeping your equipment and preparation space clean and sanitary will keep you on course for a fine tasting brew.

Things do go wrong.

You might accidentally drop something into your batch.

Maybe your three-year-old son thought he was helping Dad out by throwing the air lock into it (yes, that actually happened).

Maybe you managed to drop some bottle caps or a stirring spoon into it and then let it ferment:

beer wort with spoon
I found the missing spoon!


Does this mean you've contaminated and ruined your batch?

The short answer is no, yes and maybe.

But the chances are that you haven't screwed things up.

If you've done diligent preparation so that everything else is clean, then the chances are that dropping the odd utensil into your batch is not going to ruin it.

On a couple of occasions, I have been pushing the airlock into the hole in the top of the fermenter lid. As I have done this, I managed to push the rubber bung through the hole and into the batch.

Quelle Horreur! 

I was left with no choice each time to grab a large metal spoon from the kitchen drawer to try and fish the bung out. I had no time to sterilize the spoon - I'd pitched the yeast already and wanted to lock that drum down tight.

Did I ruin my beer by exposing it to a rubber bung and an unsanitized spoon? I possibly could have but in the end, my brews turned out absolutely fine.

Here's my reason why this scenario worked out OK.

If you make sure that you have already produced a hospitable environment for your yeast to take charge of your brew, it's like any introduction of foreign micro-organisms will not be calamitous.

The yeast you use is beer yeast. It's been cultivated for many years to brew the best kind of beers and it knows how to do its job. If it's just a minor contamination by way of a spoon or dropped airlock (chances are they were actually quite clean as opposed to say a Matchbox toy car) it's more than likely your yeast will win the tussle for beer fermenting supremacy.

I think it's fair to say that a small mistake is not fatal to your beer.

A large mistake such as not preparing your fermenter properly (cleaning and sanitizing) would probably have dire results. If your beer is actually contaminated (smells of rotten eggs, a taste test reveals a disgusting taste) then you may have to consider dumping your brew.

Update: Believe it or not, shortly after writing this post, I managed to find this in my fermenter. The beer was fine.

Image credit to ellai via Creative Commons Licence. We have no idea if Ellai prefers Star Warrs quotes, Star Trek or has even read the Mortal Engines book. Have you?