Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Reinheitsgebot

Here's something for all fellow beer snobs out there to savor: Hit & Run has a link to a story about the German (originally Bavarian) Reinheitsgebot, and one man's efforts to have it overturned.

A German brewer has launched a one-man campaign to relax the country's beer purity laws, which limit beer ingredients to hops, barley and water.
Helmut Fritsche, owner of the Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle, claims the rules stifle the creativity of small brewers and should be eased.
Mr Fritsche adds sugar syrup to one of his beers in open defiance of the law, known as the Reinheitsgebot.
The move has put him on a collision course with food safety officials.
It has also spread ripples of alarm through Germany's conservative brewing industry, which tends to see any attempt to relax the Reinheitsgebot as the thin end of the wedge.

Financial penalty

Last month, Mr Fritsche was ordered to suspend production of the offending brew, a dark beer called Schwarzer Abt, or face a hefty fine.
The authorities had previously allowed him to operate unhindered, but decided to act after he began to market Schwarzer Abt explicitly as a form of beer.
Previously, Mr Fritsche had labelled the brew as a "speciality made with added sugar syrup."
The brewer, based in the town of Neuzelle in former east Germany, is unrepentant.
"It's like taking a cup of tea, or coffee, and adding milk or sugar to it," he said.
"Some people drink it black, and some people take it white. It's a small difference of taste."
Mr Fritsche claims to have tradition on his side, pointing out that his brewery has been producing dark beer with added sugar syrup since the 16th century.
It hardly needs saying that my sympathies lie with Mr. Fritsche, as I can see no reason whatsoever for "food and safety" officials to be concerning themselves with the contents of his brew, seeing as they've already acknowledged its fitness for human consumption by allowing it to be sold under a label other than beer.

This story also illustrates a point that is often lost on those who are inclined to advocate for ever more new laws on "food safety" without even waiting to obtain any hard scientific evidence that anybody's health is being put at risk; often, the only people served by such precipitate agitation for new laws are incumbents who have every incentive to support laws that will help keep out new competition. Beer is a product marketed to adults who supposedly ought to be able to make up their own minds as to whether or not what they're drinking is worthy of the name - I know from my own bitter* encounters with pisswater like Milwaukee's Best (aka "Beast), Miller Lite and the inexplicably popular (American) Budweiser that there are very many "beers" out there one may consume only when in severe financial distress - and I don't see that the German government's interference in the way it is marketed is of benefit to anyone other than a coterie of unimaginative big brewing firms. If beers that abide by the Reinheitsgebot are what people really desire, they'll always be able to get them without much trouble, just as one can do so in the United States without a Reinheitsgebot on the statute books.

The funny thing about all this is that most of the best beers nowadays don't even come from Germany anyway. To be sure, there are still a few decent brews that issue from Bavaria (the Franziskaner and Paulaner Hefe-Weissbiers spring to mind), but most of the very best beers on the market today come from the Low Countries, not Germany. The Reinheitsgebot has made the German brewing business lazy and complacent, and beer sales in the country are declining partly as a result of this.

*Tasteless, more like.