Monday, 28 November 2011

Reinheitsgebot - Einheitsgebot

For those of us interested in the state of German brewing - me, Boak and Bailey and Robsterowski mainly - there is, in the Brewer's Guardian, a fascinating interview with American Brewer in Bavaria, gone not quite native, Eric Toft.

Eric argues that German brewers have in effect led themselves and their customers up a blind alley of sameness, by interpreting the beer purity law in a singular and unwise way. He says in effect that there has been a gaderene rush to produce identical beers, dictated not by the Reinheitsgebot, but a lack of vision. He points out that "the Reinheitsgebot says nothing about what hop varieties and barley varieties and yeast strains you should use" and that "the Reinheitsgebot should be an inspiration to try and create within these so-called ‘confines".  Like so many things in life, it isn't what you've got, but the way that you use it that counts.

He has put this into effect in the brewery where he is Head Brewer, Privat Landbrauerei Schönram, a 55,000hl rural Bavarian brewery, by producing porters and IPAs alongside the more usual helles and pils, pointing out that particularly, these small scale experiments are well liked by women. (A separate issue, but yet another pointer that silly spritzer style beers for women are doomed to failure).

It is good to see this streak of common sense and adventure, albeit on a tiny scale, so let's hope he can convince more of his brewing colleagues and the wider drinking public in Germany.

Anything that shakes the German brewing industry out of its lethargy cannot be a bad thing. I say more power to his elbow.

The full interview with Eric Toft can be downloaded here.


Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

he makes some great beers, wish they were more widely available, last time I had some was at the Meantime Old Brewery place.

Pivní Filosof said...

I must take some issue with that "sameness" thing. Though it's true that most German breweries make the same few things on paper, when you go to places like Franconia you see that those beers are hardly the same. Those who pay attention realise that each has their own distinctive character.

It's nice to see people like Toft, or Schneider, trying to do something that everyone will know it's different even before opening the bottle, but I also believe that those who use the same old, boring, locally sourced ingredients to make something interesting out of the same old, "boring" stuff deserve every bit as much praise.

Tandleman said...

Adrian - Didn't know they are on sale here.

Pivni - I don't disagree at all. The issue isn't with those that do try and make something distinctive (a very small minority) but with those that don't.

Pivní Filosof said...

But why should they? It's a business after all. This is a bit like the discussion not long ago in Mark's blog about the über-hoppy beers. Some breweries are making them because they believe they can sell well. German brewers (and I'm speaking about the smaller ones, there are other reasons why large breweries don't want to introduce many new things), on the other hand believe that "sameness" is good for business and they can't be bothered with bringing in anything new. (whether that business vision is right or wrong, is another thing).

I'd love to try Toft's beers (I think they can be bought here in Prague), based on what I've heard about them, it's very likely that I will enjoy them. What I want to see, though, is if I'll enjoy them more than a proper Kellerbier with just a touch of Tettnanger or Hellertau

Stan Hieronymus said...

Max - Eric is talking not just about styles not previously seen in Germany, but about the way the "regular" ones are made.

For instance, his pils has medaled the last three years in the Beer Star awards. Unlike brands such as Jever, it is not bittered with extract but with Spalter Spalt, an "aroma" hop. About 60% of Schönram sales are its Hell, which won the gold at the Beer Star awards.

Bailey said...

I think he's right that it's not the Reinheitsgebot that limits the creativity of German beer. There's a hell of a lot of interesting things you can do with malt, hops and yeast; and, anyway, no-one seems to mind German breweries bending the rules to make boring beer, e.g. using a black colouring agent made from boiled down wort which is *technically* within the Reinheitsgebot to make dark beer with no dark flavours.

Tandleman said...

"But why should they?" I think that's a bit of an odd question. It basically can be boiled down to why don't we just have one product called "beer".

I wrote about this problem some time ago - in September 2008 in fact and my answer to you lies within that article.

Tandleman said...

Stan - Thanks for dropping by. I think when most German Brewers want to play safe you end up with stagnation - or cola mix.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

they were also on sale at the brewery’s Union pub last time I was there, Toft is well regarded by the likes of Alastair Hook, I was introduced to him at the White Horse a few years back, you’ve made me thirsty and it’s not even midday…

Tandleman said...

Thirsty? Do what I'm doing. A nice cup of tea.

Erlangernick said...

Unless I've missed it, no one's brought up the real problem with the relatively boring Biermarkt in Deutschland: the tastes and provincial nature of the punters. And their stinginess...why would a brewer even consider use more hops (or real hops) if it meant asking the customer to pay more?

Anyway, I did enjoy some experimental Schönram beers at the fabulous Brau-Beviale trade show in Nürnberg...Nuremberg a few weeks ago.
is a description of the four that were pouring at a hop grower's association booth.

Most notable there are the Saison and "Bavarian Pale Ale". The former was great, even with its conformance to the Reinheitsgebot. The latter...meh. 'twas a bit green, though they apologised for this in the info there (short, cold lagering because of late hop harvest).

They noted how much hops they used in the recipe: 600g per hl. I use about 2-1/2 times as much for my pale ale at half the gravity of that beer.

The head of one of hop farms there said there's future, no market for such beers. So there you have it!

It is an interesting new hop's the info sheet about it:

Franconia does enjoy a great diversity. Pity it's "mostly" a great diversity of meh.

And w.r.t. Schneider, big deal. It is pretty telling when the big news is a Weizen brewer changes around a hop or yeast...or even both.

(Hey Stan, it's NickB from r.f.d.b days.)

Erlangernick said...


They noted how much hops they used in the recipe: 600g per hl. I use about 2-1/2 times as much for my pale ale at half the gravity of that beer.

Erm...I mean, *I* use 150 g in my 25 l batches, whereas they use 250 g per hl. Whatever, it weren't very hoppy, though the hops they had at the stand were lovely: oily and fruity-stinky.

Matt Gorecki said...

Just imagining the possibilities where German brewers turn their expertise towards other styles... Yep... It could be pretty good

Stan Hieronymus said...

Howdy Nick - Looking forward to trying that "tangerine" hop next year. They've set aside enough that Victory will make a beer to serve (properly lagered) at the Craft Brewers Conference in May.

Sue said...

Methinks you mean 'Gadarene'. The Gaderene are aliens from Doctor Who!

Tandleman said...

I guess spell checker didn't pick that up!

Mark Andersen said...

I think Nick got it right. It's the German beer drinker's fault. They are getting what they want and deserve.

I've got friends that live in Hamburg. Occasionally I visit them there but usually I go to Franconia. I have the same argument with them every year.

"Why don't you spend more time in Hamburg on your vacation?" they ask.

I reply "Because I don't want to spend most of my vacation drinking Astra on the Reeperbahn!"

And invariably they meet me in Franconia for a few days and we have a good time but is seems like they suffer through all those different beers that have more flavor than what they're used to. I've taken them to Roppelt's Keller (twice), I've done the Bamberg thing with them, we've been to Annafest. Yet they will not change their beer drinking habits. They return home to Hamburg and it's right back to drinking Astra without fail.

Then there is this stubborn regional price thing going on with their beer. It's all well and good if you're in Dusseldorf and you're proud of your altbier but it's gets really stupid when someone from the north argues that Holstein is the best beer in Germany "and you must try it!" they say. Yes I've had this discussion with someone.

Sometimes though some of this behavior is what I love about the German beer drinking scene. It's really cool to be sitting in an old pub or keller and you find a beer that you really, really love and it seems to make the locals happy and proud that someone from the outside takes such an appreciation in their local beer.

And some of the beers in Germany are really great and if you know where to look you can get a taste of where Germany's beer reputation really comes from. But the everyday German beer drinker will need to get their head out of their arse before it ever changes much.

Pivní Filosof said...

Tandleman, I will read your Sept. 2008 article, as soon as I have enough time. Anyway, Mark's comment is right, it's all about the consumers. And if you think of it, most, if not all, of the best selling beers in every country are dull (not to say downright crap) and the are almost without exception a pale lager, and that's why I believe that those who still manage to make something interesting and worth drinking out of that same old boring stuff deserve praise.

As I've said, I welcome those who try to bring something new to any beer landscape, but they will always depend on the market. If nobody bought Toft's IPA, Porter, etc. we wouldn't be talking about all this perhaps...

Rod said...

The superb Schoenramer Pils and Dunkles are on sale at the Greenwich Union - Meantime import them direct from the brewery.
Eric is a great bloke and a great brewer - personally I have learned a lot from the way they do things at Schoenram. Good luck to him trying new things in the (understandably) conservative Bavarian market.

DonS said...

While rare, there is an emerging culture - well, smattering of other "outside the box" brewers in Germany, like Braustelle (Köln) and Camba Bavaria (Truchtlaching); Camba Bavaria's brewery is only about 40 minutes' driving time from Schönram.

I've also had a rather odd stout at the Thurn und Taxis brewpub in Regensburg. Malt bill was all right, but fermenting with hefeweizen yeast gave it a jarringly fruity note that seemed at odds with the style.

Weyermann is also doing some ales and porters at its little "experimental" on-site brewery in Bamberg. Some of these beers are available at Gerhard Schoolman's Café Abseits pub.

Andy Gänstaller is also doing interesting strong lagers in Franconia; he's brewing at Friedel's old brewery in the village of Schnaid, but serving in the former Drei Kronen brewery's pub in Strassgiech. Worth seeking out.

Also, go north: Wöllnitz, a suburb of Jena, has the Talschänke brewpub with an excellent sour Weisse, and you can find Gose in Leipzig and Goslar.

The thing about German brewing is that both brewers and beer drinkers have conspired to paint themselves into a sort of corner. The prevailing attitude is "we've perfected our beer. Shut up and drink it."

Neville Grundy said...

My understanding of the Purity Law has always been that it was not a quality control device but a form of protectionism. However, I checked before commenting and here is what Wikipedia says: "The Reinheitsgebot formed the basis of legislation that spread slowly throughout Bavaria and Germany. Bavaria insisted on its application throughout Germany as a precondition of German unification in 1871, to prevent competition from beers brewed elsewhere with a wider range of ingredients. The move encountered strong resistance from brewers outside Bavaria. By restricting the allowable ingredients, it led to the extinction of many brewing traditions and local beer specialties, such as North German spiced beer and cherry beer, and led to the domination of the German beer market by pilsener style beers. Only a few regional beer varieties, such as Kölner Kölsch or Düsseldorfer Altbier, survived its implementation."

I've never understood why drinkers see merit in the law (which it isn't now anyway) when it has wiped out distinctive styles and is responsible for a high level of conformity in beers in Germany and beyond (having paved the way for the spread of pilsener snd sub-pilsener beers all over the world).

Erlangernick said...

I've never tried to dig into the text of the law myself, but have heard or read that only bottom fermented beers are subject to it. Ergo Kölsch, Alt, Weizen or any other top-fermented beers aren't. Or is it that they can be labeled as being brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot even if they aren't because they are exempt?

Spiced Gose could be labeled as being brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, in other words, even though it contains spices.

Rob Sterowski said...

Top-fermented beers are also affected, but the rules are less strict. Any malted grain, not just barley, is allowed in top-fermented beers, and outside Bavaria sugar may even be used.

Nothing is stopping German brewers brewing IPA or stout except their own taste and their own judgement of what they can sell.

There’s a rather sinister narrative originating in the USA that blames the stagnation of the German beer market on the Reinheitsgebot. It’s complete tosh. Good to see that Eric Toft has a more sophisticated approach to the question.

Rob Sterowski said...

By the way, RedNev, Bavarian beer had already done a fair job of driving out sour white beers in Northern Germany by the time the Reinheitsgebot was extended over all of Germany. It was the market that killed those beers.

Felix said...

I hope that in future there will be more courageous brewers in Germany like Eric Toft. He has been the influence of American Craft Brewery in Germany and that's good! Keep it up man :D