hildenbrand

With more than 1,300 breweries producing some five-and-a-half thousand different types of beer, Germany is serious about the amber nectar. There’s even a word for it – bierernst – which means “deadly serious” and translates literally as “beer serious.”

This sober attitude applies particularly to the German beer purity law known as the Reinheitsgebot. Introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria, the decree allows for only hops, barley, water and, later, yeast in every Stein. For 500 years, this recipe has served Bavaria very well, and for the last century, the rest of Germany.

But as 48-year-old Karlo Schorn, a patron at a Berlin bar, admits, tastes are changing. “German beer isn’t as good as it was 20 years ago” he bemoans. “Brands of beer have the same taste, or nearly the same taste. And good beers with awards now are not from Germany, they are from America or somewhere else.”

Germany’s Beer Purity Law Is 500 Years Old. Is It Past Its Sell-By Date?

Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images

A Venice canal reflects the summer sky in this Autochrome picture from 1927. Photographer Hans Hildenbrand became famous for the color pictures he made around Europe during World War I.