Talking about beer in Germany often leads to a subject that 99% of people understand incorrectly: the Reinheitsgebot. The Reinheitsgebot is a fantastic thing for the consumer: it means that, if a bottle/can/barrel carries this word, the beer is guaranteed to be made of hops, malted barley, water, yeast and nothing else. This is a great thing, a promise to the drinker that there are no E-colours, no chemicals, no additives and no strange ingredients have been used to go into their pint.
Unfortunately, this is where most people stop understanding.
Whilst the Reinheitsgebot is a great way of determining what’s not in your beer, it’s a terrible indicator of quality – the one direction in which the breweries who print it on their labels try to push it: the Reinheitsgebot has nothing to do with the quality of the ingredients that make the beer, it just dictates that certain things aren't allowed to be used.
Now, I’m not going to go down the route of saying that limiting yourself to certain ingredients is idiotic in the first place (which it is by the way) because I live in a country where cold, fizzy beer is the only style accepted. Firstly, the varietal of hops (a very diverse group of ingredients) isn't dictated by the Reinheitsgebot – nor is the quality, amount or origin. The same is true of water, yeast and malted barley. On the side, it’s worth noting that hops aren't necessarily limited to fresh ones: the word Hopfenextrakt is commonplace on many a label – Hop extract. This isn't a bad thing but real beer is made with real hops, not concentrated chemicals, the very thing the whole thing attepts to avoid in the first place: nevertheless hop extracts are allowed in the Reinheitsgebot.
The Reinheitsgebot falls on its face as well simply through the way it has changed over the years. Of course, adaptations in pasteurisation are partly to blame however the use of cane sugar and yeast is also permitted to make sure that old-fashioned brewerys' Weizenbiere (wheat beers) can still carry the label of ‘Gebraut nach dem deutschen Rienheitsgebot von 1516’ – a clear tool of marketing rather than one guaranteeing quality. Something that is so etched into national domestic beer-drinking society that foreign beers are commonly referred to as 'Chemiebiere' (chemical beers) which is neither true nor is the Reinheitsgebot particularly a specialty of German brewers alone.
But no, the consumer and uninformed beer drinker will tell you that the Reinheitsgebot is a definition of quality: not true. Reinheit literally means cleanliness or the like, not quality. The breweries of (awfully dull) beer will continue to print this rubbish on their labels as if it really means something – it does: the brewer has limited his knowledge of brewing beer, he’s chosen to limit his list of ingredients, he’s decided not to experiment with other ingredients, he’s gone down the road of printing misleading phrases onto his bottles in the interest of selling lots of mundane and average sparkling beer.
It’s the equivalent of a chef choosing only to cook with poultry, water, potatoes and peas (nothing else)– there are some wonderful combinations but the variations are minimal and never represent quality, only a list of the ingredients of the boiled food on the plate.
There’s no reason not to drink Reinheitsgebot beer – a lot of it is lovely, really well-made stuff, it's no determination of bad quality - it's not a determination of quality at all. The word Reinheitsgebot still isn’t a reason to drink it though – it has nothing to do with quality – it’s a misunderstood marketing technique that large breweries make use of to sell you boring beer. So now you know.