Kiwi-German brewer Annika Naschitzki believes Germany’s famous purity law threatens its brewing culture.
“I think Germany is running a serious risk of internationally falling behind, because there are a lot of interesting beers that are natural and pure, yet people can’t brew them because of a purity law.”
“The Reinheitsgebot today is just called the Biergesetz, the beer law. More than 60 ingredients can be added to beer. The idea is that anything that does not remain in the beer can be used – finings can be used because they do not remain in the beer. If you make a coconut beer and coconut remains in the beer, that’s not able to be sold as a beer. It would be a 'fermented alcoholic beverage’. But there are some exceptions, like caramel food colouring. You can brew a light beer and put food colouring and sell it as a Dunkel. You can even use sweeteners and that’s nowhere near brewing with integrity.
“So the law isn’t about tradition, it is about protecting big brewers. They use the Reinheitsgebot as this advertising to say our beer is so pure and traditional, meanwhile using the full range of high-tech ingredients to make their beer extremely fast. They use all-extract – hop extract, malt extract. They have lager yeasts that work at 8⁰c and they’re done in like five days. They can make a beer really, really fast and in massive amounts. You can buy a pretty decent pilsner for 30 Eurocents for half a litre.”
Annika says some popular craft styles can conform with the beer law. California’s Stone Brewing is currently building a large brewpub in Berlin, declaring itself the “first American craft brewer to own and operate a facility in Europe”.
“They’re clearly looking at this market thinking they can do something there. There are (German) craft brewers who work within the realms of Reinheitsgebot. They will not brew beer that they would have to label as a fermented alcoholic beverage, but the brewers are tiny and I don’t know if they make any money. The only kind of early adopter market that I see in Germany is the alternative, organics kind of crowd, looking for an alternative to the industrial stuff, not looking for different styles of beer.”
“Here in New Zealand I don’t think the big breweries have the chance to knock the small breweries out of the market. In Germany, they have a good chance of keeping them down. It’s going to take awareness that drinking beer in other countries is a lot more interesting and they are missing out. German beer culture is falling behind and it is at real risk of falling behind even further because a simple traditional beer like a milk stout or a witbier cannot be made.”
Annika’s vision is for a further update of the beer law to allow innovation. “I think it should be possible to instigate a law that keeps people from replacing malt with cane sugar but still allows natural ingredients like herbs and spices and oak. That’s where Germany’s opportunity lies – reform that law to allow creativity but still keep the quality up.”