Food and Drink

The Reinheitsgebot Turns 500-Years-Old

The Reinheitsgebot turns 500 this Saturday.

If you’ve heard that word around Charlotte before, it’s likely been in association with The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. But if it’s still foreign to you, know that the Reinheitsgebot — also known as the German Beer Purity Law — stipulates that German breweries use only four ingredients in their beers: water, hops, yeast and malted barley (or wheat).

This may sound like censorship to the average American brewer. No coffee stouts? No fruit beers? No imperial lagers brewed with 99 scorpions? (Okay, so that last one might only be a problem for The Unknown Brewing Co.) Whether it’s vegetable, animal or mineral, it’s hard to think of an ingredient that hasn’t found its way into beer on this side of the pond.

After all, there aren’t many breweries in the U.S. that abide by the Reinheitsgebot. It plays no role in the average day of most brewers, but there are a few American adherents. The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is one of them.

Given this, you might expect the hometown brewery to be hoisting steins in celebration of the occasion. And there will be much stein hoisting at the brewery this weekend, but it will be during the brewery’s annual Louisiana Springfest. Like several Bavarian breweries, OMB will wait until July to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot.

Munich Bavarian Purity Law

Representatives from the brewery and the Charlotte Regional Partnership will travel to Germany next week, however, where the brewery’s beer — 13,440 bottles of it — will be served at the Hannover Messe trade fair. Founder John Marrino said he’s confident it will hold up well in a country revered for its beer, and why wouldn’t it? After all, the brewery beat the Germans at their own game by winning a gold medal in the European Beer Star International Competition last year, and in a category typically dominated by Deutschland at that.

But 500 years later, does the Reinheitsgebot matter? We have more breweries in the U.S. than we’ve ever had, many of which are experimenting with different ingredients and processes to push the boundaries of beer. 

When you’re chasing the latest trend, it can be hard to get excited about tradition. But as more breweries push ever onward, these traditional beers become all the more nontraditional. In Charlotte, we’re fortunate to have a seemingly endless amount of choices, whether they be sours, Belgian styles, barrel-aged beers, IPAs or anything else you can dream up.

And thanks to a law that was enacted 500 years ago, we have world-class German styles as well. OMB’s success in Charlotte is proof positive that many drinkers simply want a fresh and flavorful take on classic and approachable styles. That’s as true in Charlotte as it is other cities, where more craft breweries are turning out lagers (and specifically pilsners).

Five hundred years after it was first enacted, and the Reinheitsgebot might not be in effect in the U.S. — but it is very much in play.