To prevent adulteration of beer, the Bavarians passed a consumer protection beer purity law in 1516. In German it is known as Deutsches Reinheitsgebot, and permits only four basic ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast. This is contrasted by the alarming old British practice of leint ale, which contained human urine.

You must not forget that this law came not alone: Along the same time yet another law was set which determined the size of a maß (or measure) of beer. A bartender who skimped his customers on the amount of beer given (smaller Steins were a popular way) was required by law to be drowned in a cage for several minutes. Surprisingly enough this happened quite a bit and a considerable number of brewers / beertenders lost their lives in the proccess.

The Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, the Reinheitsgebot, stipulated that beer made in Bavaria may contain only Barley, Hops and Water. Yeast was added to the list of allowable ingredients in 1551. The law was further modified in 1952 and 1980. In 1987 the European Court of Justice of the EC ruled that the law created "intra-European trade barriers", thus causing the law to be officially lifted, though many German breweries still follow the tradition.

The following is an English translation of the original Reinheitsgebot.


We decree, establish and ordain at the behest of the Lords of Bavaria that henceforth in all the land, in the countryside as well as our towns and marketplaces, there is no other policy than this:
  • From Michaelmas until the Feast of St George, one mug or 'head' of beer will not be sold for more than one Munich penny; and
  • from the Feast of St George until Michaelmas, a mug will not be sold for more than two pennies of the same reckoning, and a head for no more than three heller, under pain of penalty.

But when one brews any beer (other than Märzenbier), it will under no circumstances be poured or sold for more than one penny per mug. Further we decree that henceforth in all our towns, marketplaces and the whole of the countryside, no beer shall contain or be brewed with more ingredients than barley, hops, and water.

He who knowingly violates these laws will be summarily fined a keg of beer, each time it happens. However, if a publician buys one, two, or three Eimer of beer from a brewery in our towns, marketplaces, or the whole countryside, to sell to the local townspeople, to him alone will it be allowed and permitted to sell mugs and heads of beer for one Heller more than is written above. Also the Lords of Bavaria reserve the right to decree appropriate changes to this decree for the public benefit in the event that strong hardship arises from shortages and price increases of grains (since the seasons and the region and the harvest times in our land can vary); in that event the right to adjust the regulations over the sale are explicitly expressed and established.

Mug = 1.069 liter
Eimer = 64 Mugs


Sources:
http://www.wohlmut.com/beer/morebeer.html
http://www.american.edu/TED/GERMBEER.HTM

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