The Bavarian Purity Law from 1516 – the oldest still valid food safety regulation
Bavarian Purity Law – High above the banks of the river Regen, close to the village Fischbach in the Oberpfalz (Upper Palatinate), is the ruin of the castle Stockenfels. According to the legend all lousy brewers were banished there, to atone for their dreadful brew. The ones who diluted their beer with water had to scoop at least the same amount of water out of the castle moat. And the ones who added some strange herbs to intensify the effect of their beer, should drink their own brew until they drop dead.
Bier developed its distinctive taste we fell in love with not even onehundred years ago. One reason for this is the technological progress, guaranteeing us beer in a constant high quality nowadays – a fact you could not rely on in former times. Another reason is, that, back then, all substances were used that were more or less maltable, were able to mask the taste of beer that turned sour or developed poor flavour or were just inexpensive to obtain: Beans and peas, chalk, henbane or soot. In good beers the wort has always been out of breadcereals: barley, wheat or oat.
Therefore it is hardly surprising, that the noblemen of those days were thinking of ways to reliably provide digestible and inexpensive beer to their people – as beer was perceived a basic food.
So, in the year 1516 on April 23rd, the day of Saint George, after a long discussions the Bavarian Purity Law was passed. It was issued by the reigning dukes Wilhelm IV. and Ludwig X along with representatives of the high aristocracy, the church and with delegates of the towns and cities. Now, for more than 500 years it has been the foundation for the great reputation of Bavaria in the world concerning beer and brewing. The noblemen pursued two goals: Firstly, to guarantee the people’s supply with the digestible basic food beer; the widespread supplement of odd ingredients in order to “improve” the taste sometimes had bad impact on the physical and mental wellbeing. And secondly the restriction of grains to barley was meant to ensure the availability of affordable bread, as wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers. The early version of the Purity Law also set the price of the beer and the means of production.
In this order it was defined and still is today, that the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer are water, barley and hops. The high standard of beers brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law was and still is so persuasive, that it became the benchmark for the fine art of brewing worldwide.
The Regensburg brewing regulation
Water, Malt, Hops, Yeast – these are the four ingredients German and especially Bavarian beer is made of. We owe this to duke Wilhelm IV., who issued the Bavarian Purity Law. But have there been any prior regulations on beer brewing?
As early as April 23rd, 1516, since the Bavarian Purity Law was proclaimed by a gathering of aristocracy and knightage in Ingolstadt, in the federal state of Bavaria only beer of high quality is brewed. Subsequently every other federal state joined in to brew excellent beers as well.
But even before this order regulations, that governed the production of beer, existed. In 1447 Regensburg councilmen ordered their town doctor to control the beer brewed within the town limits on a regular basis.
He was supposed to keep special attention on the ingredients, used for the brew. It even attracted the attention of Munich councilmen, who made the brewers by threat of punishment only to use barley, hops water and nothing else.
Already in 1453 Regensburg issued a brewing regulation, where brewers had to vow, that they would not add „any seed or herb or scrub“ or anything like it to their amber nectar. “last runnings” – highly diluted wort – could not be produced and sold any more.
Back then Regensburg was ahead of its time: More than 50 years before the official decree of the Bavarian Purity Law the Regensburg brewing regulation was enacted. Thus, it is the predecessor of the Purity Law; one could almost say, the foundation for best, pure beer was laid in Regensburg.
Cheers, to the Regensburg brewing regulation!