Humans are very weird. For some strange reason, we have decided that the number 10 is a great base for counting when 12 would have been much better, and for some even stranger reason we find it endlessly fascinating when we’re dealing with so-called “round” numbers – such as the numbers 5, 50 and 500. Imagine my delight, then, when I dis-covered that these particular three numbers all ganged up on me last weekend to provide me with the ultimate excuse to both drink beer and then subsequently write about it.
The number 500 should require no explanation. It is, after all, the main anniversary of 2016 since it marks 500 years since some Ludwig or other suspected that brewers at the time added too much dodgy stuff into their brews – apparently, some were chucking in horse manure, soot and various poisonous herbs to make the beer taste better or last longer – and thus declared that beer was only allowed to be brewed using three ingredients, namely water, hops and malted barley. Of course, brewers have since discovered that a fourth ingredient sneaks into the beer as well, namely yeast – without which there would be no alcohol in the beer – so the actual law has been updated accordingly. However, apart from this, the law has remained in force for 500 years except that it hasn’t since the EU banned it after the Belgians complained.
|The Beer Blogger seeking inspiration for his 50th beer blog post|
The numbers 5 and 50 both relate to this very blog, though – for it was here, 5 years ago, that I took my first beerful steps into the world of online, unedited publishing, hoping that my ramblings may reach an audience of millions and providing me with endless product placement opportunities from all the good breweries in this world. It hasn’t quite gone to plan, but I have still managed to keep writing – and what you’re reading is blog post number 50. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey as much as I have, and feel free to send me more beer.
Back to the aforementioned law. It is known either by its German name, the “Bayrische Reinheitsgebot”, or by its somewhat meek English translation, “the Bavarian Purity Law”. You can discuss until the cows come home whether or not German is a beautiful language, but you cannot deny that some of the words carry more weight than their English equivalents, mostly due to them being about ten times longer. What is beyond reasonable doubt though, is the fact that the law was signed in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, a smallish town sat nicely on the mighty Danube about halfway between Munich and Nuremberg.
|An authentic recreation of the first proclamation of the Reinheitsgebot|
The Germans usually know how to put on a good party, whether it is the world’s biggest – Oktoberfest – or a small village event in some dog-forsaken place that no-one’s ever heard of. These parties usually revolve around drinking loads of beer and listening to some oompah band playing cheesy tunes whilst dancing on the benches in a big tent. It was therefore exactly such an event I foresaw when I spotted an ad for Ingolstadt’s 500-year celebration party, to take place on the weekend of the 23rd of April 2016, exactly 500 years to the day after the Reinheitsgebot was signed. For this reason, it came as a big surprise when we finally got there and discovered that the theme was distinctly medieval and based on a surprising number of bands sporting bagpipes and drums in various combinations of bagpipes and drums, though I also spotted a flute. These bands toured around three or four stages set up in a couple of streets in the old city, farting their pipes and banging their drums so loudly that the only thing to do was to buy beer and sit down to listen and tap a foot or two. Needless to say, it was fantastic fun.
What was also nice to see was that this fest actually did celebrate beer instead of merely using beer as a lubricant to get the party going. Nine different breweries had set up stands where excellent beer was dispensed and where real choice was on offer, from standard Helles through Rotbier to a hearty Bock.
|We made loads of friends in Ingolstadt|
Furthermore, there was an absolutely superb guided tour that took you through the history of the Reinheitsgebot – unlike many such tours, this was anything but dry since was it both extremely well narrated by people who knew how to entertain an audience, and more importantly broken up nicely by visiting all nine brewery stands for tastings. These were supposed to be 0.2 litres each, but every time our goblets were filled we seemed to “accidentally” get a fair bit extra, so by the end most people had imbibed at least two litres plus perhaps what their other halves could not handle. The general mood of the tour was, therefore, continuously getting more boisterous – and then, the grand finale! A water fountain was ceremoniously turned into a beer fountain, thus finally making sense of the concept "drinking fountain", and we were once again allowed to fill our tankards to the brim. I have since decided to start a political party with the sole aim to get all drinking fountains to occasionally dispense beer. What a day – and it was not yet 3pm!
|The popularity of the fountain increased exponentially once it started dispensing beer|
Sadly, we had to catch the train home just after this, which turned out to be a major anticlimax. However, looking back at Ingolstadt, the Reinheitsgebot and everything I have ever known about German beer, I think I can safely say that this was one of the highlights of my beer-loving life. A lot of beer aficionados debate whether the Purity Law is good or bad these days – some think it stifles innovation, others think it encourages brewers to maintain or improve quality. What is beyond unreasonable doubt though, is that Germany has some of the best beer in the world and that the Law has done its reputation no harm whatsoever. Having witnessed a tendency for German brewers to be a little bit “stuck in the past” over the last decade, I am also happy to announce that the beers on offer in Ingolstadt included several made by young, enthusiastic and innovative brewers who seem happy to experiment a little, even though they may prefer to do so with only water, malt, hops and yeast.
Anyway, this turned out to be a relatively long 50th post, but I nevertheless hope that you’ve enjoyed reading my beery ramblings for the last 5 years or so, and if you haven’t then you should probably try and read them all again since they’re awesome. In some ways I’ve come full circle – I intended the blog to be mainly about German beer, but it has turned out to be more international than I had anticipated – so on this massive occasion of the 50th post it is nice come back and give my adopted home a good whatever the opposite of bollocking is. Don’t worry, I shall be back writing about foreign lands soon enough, I’ve got several plane tickets booked and I’ve packed a toothbrush. As they say in Kuala Lumpur: Sorakan!