Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why Gerard Misses Beer from the U.S.

Yes, we've all heard about Germany's fantastic beer, and we've seen pictures of Munich's famous beer halls... complete with buxom dirndl-clad women carrying five different liter-sized beers in each hand. Often the image one has of Germany and beer is an image of Oktoberfest, where more than 6,900,000 liters of beer are served every year at the festival. If so many tourists flock to Germany and some come specifically for the beer, why on earth would Gerard crave anything from the good ole' U.S. of A.? That's just absurd, right?

Well, here's why.

The Reinheitsgebot, sometimes called the "German Beer Purity Law" or the "Bavarian Purity Law," is a regulation concerning beer production in Germany. In the original written text, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley, and hops. Yeast was not mentioned in the original text, as it was not known to be an ingredient of beer. It wasn't until the 18oo's that Pasteur discovered the role of yeast in the fermentation process. Prior to this understanding, brewers took some sediment from the previous fermentation and added it to the next.

Some of the original reasons for the Reinheitsgebot make good sense. There was a need for some regulation with regard to preservation methods of beer. Medieval brewers sometimes used problematic ingredients, such as soot, or herbs such as stinging nettle or henbane to preserve beer. Hops not only provides flavor, but also acts as a preservative, and it's mention in the Reinheitsgebot was meant to prevent these inferior methods of preservation.

Another reason for the introduction of the law was to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains used in beer brewing to barley was meant to ensure the availability of affordable bread (as the more valuable wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers).

Incidentally, this law first started in Bavaria in 1516. Bavarians then insisted this law spread throughout Germany to prevent competition from beers brewed elsewhere with a wider range of ingredients. As you can imagine, this was met with strong resistance from existing brewers outside of Bavaria. This law ultimately led to the extinction of many local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the rise of pilsener style beers in the German beer market. Only a few regional beer varieties survived the implementation of this law.

In May 1987, a court ruling led to the Reinheitsgebot being lifted. In 1993 the original law was replaced by the Provisional German Beer Law, which allowed other ingredients such as wheat malt and cane sugar to the mix (but no longer allowed "unmalted" barley). Though the original Reinheitsgebot brewing laws no longer apply, beer brewed according to them still receive special treatment as a "traditional" food.

The proud tradition of these German brewing standards remains today, and many breweries continue to comply with these original laws. Claiming compliance to the Reinheitsgebot is a valuable marketing tool so breweries often proudly proclaim to do so. However, some breweries claim to follow the original laws when they actually do not with respect to the wheat beers (which were originally prohibited in the Reinheitsgebot).

In total, there are approximately 1300 breweries in Germany, with almost half of them located in Bavaria. In fact, the Benedictine Abbey Weihenstephan brewery (established in 725) claims to be the oldest existing brewery in the world, as they have brewed beer continuously since 1040. This brewery, by the way, is located about twenty minutes from our house. So if you like beer, and are interested in a trip to Munich, come by for a visit. We have a guest room, and the brewery gives tours for an extremely nominal fee. :)

Okay, so you see... it's not that Gerard dislikes the beer here. He dislikes the lack of variety of beer ingredients here. What Germany produces is very fine quality, but Gerard is used to a bit more choice in his beer selection. Many bars do not sell many imports, and if they do it's something like Bud. We've found a few Irish or British type pubs that will sell Newcastle or Guinness, if we feel like traveling into Munich. It appears that for a greater variety, you need to get an imported beer. It also seems that imports are not found here easily, and when they are, they are quite expensive. So if you are headed to Munich anytime soon, smuggle in a few extra "hoppy" pale ales or maybe a Sierra Nevada or two. Gerard would be ever-so-grateful. Heck, while you're at it, I wouldn't mind a cider or an extra fruity beer, either. :)


At September 2, 2009 at 2:12 AM , Blogger JRSofty said...

Out standing article Steph. Maybe one of these days when you guys come to Karlstadt with us I'll take Gerard to an old military haunt in Wuerzburg called "House of 100 Beers". I'm sure they will have the variety that he is missing.


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