2016 marks quite an important milestone in beer. Perhaps the most important one. It is the 500th Anniversary of the German Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot. We’ll try to get to what that was all about in a bit.
When Matt Sweetwood’s parents came to visit his new homeland of Germany, they thought it would be a great idea to experience Oktoberfest. Constant toasting of litres upon litres of beer, drinking songs, pretzels as big as your head and a sea of liderhosen. For some it is the apex of German culture. What no one knew is that reservations are made at the historic beer tents up to a year in advanced. There are no walk ins. After much frustration and some lying Matt gets his family in for some beer. After dropping his parents off at the airport, Matt decides to make amends with his parents by exploring Germany’s beer culture. His journey takes him from Cologne, to the hop farms in Hallertau and all the way to Bamberg.
Call it the power of suggestion, but this movie made me thirsty. Envious of every sip, luckily I had plenty to drink. The one thing that struck me was the different ways beer is served in regions. Bavaria serves it by the litre but Cologne serves their signature Kolsch in a Stange. A glass that holds 6.7 ounces. But don’t worry about ordering another round, beers are replenished just as quickly as they disappear. At the time of filming Bamberg was home to 1 brewery for every 150 people. Sounds like Heaven.
Beerland is an interesting and more serious take on drinking culture. It’s clear from the get go that Matt is not much of a beer drinker. Which makes him feel like even more of an outsider. He views beer as a one way lane to getting hammered. If it were me I’d be frolicking through the country side faster than it takes someone to order another round. A joyous buoy in a sea of suds. I don’t mean to speak for anyone, but I think a lot of this attitude comes from his Midwest upbringing. Living in the Bible Belt results in some pretty odd and conflicting attitudes towards alcohol. By the end of the movie Matt does come away with a better appreciation of Germany’s beer culture.
Reinheitsgebot simply states that beer can only be brewed with water, barley, hops and yeast. Anything made with ingredients outside of these could not be labeled as beer. When the Duke of Bavaria ( Wilhem the IV, he’s A#1) passed the Purity Law it was to ensure three things: 1. To ban the use of wheat in beer so brewers and bakers weren’t competing for materials. 2. To protect drinkers from high prices. And 3. Prevent brewers from adding toxic and even hallucinogenic ingredients as preservatives or flavorings. Some shady brewers were putting soot, stinging nettle and henbane as preservatives in beer. It didn’t take long for the laws to be enacted nationwide. In 1993 the law was updated to the Provisional Law. But in recent years the law has been criticized by German brewers and politicians that feel they’re missing out on the craft beer boom.
Recently I heard a local brewer say how much he hated the German Purity Law. This is a brewery that is highly experimental. I’ve had a few of their beers and they’re great. But without Reinheitsgebot he, and places like Scratch Brewing, wouldn’t have a standard to rebel against.
The Weihenstephaner 1516 Kellerbier was brewed specifically for Reinheitsgebot’s anniversary. That’s fitting because they are the oldest operating brewery in the world, founded in 1040 by monks, with roots that go back all the way to 768. A Kellerbier is an unpastuerized and unfiltered Lager that is then cooled for a long period of time. It’s literal translation is “cellar beer”. The style is almost as hold as the brewery itself. This beer has a great balance of biscuit malts and earthy hops going on. A bit of a spicy finish from the hops that results in another outstanding beer from one of the best breweries in the world. This is why I love German beer so much. The balanced malt forward styles makes them approachable no matter what a person’s preference.
On a side note, I’ve been trying to get better about sourcing my movies for review. I think it’s important to support the things you like. I can’t believe I paid money for Steel. Still, I have no regrets about watching Double Dragon on YouTube with Romanian subtitles. Finding Beerland was no easy task. I checked Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Video and even tried looking for a DVD. No such luck. But it is on YouTube, uploaded with Czech subtitles. Which means anytime there’s English subtitles for all the German dialogue it is covered with Czech. But that’s what you get with free movies.