Monday, 5 December 2016

Commemorating 500 years of the Reinheitsgebot

2016 has been an eventful year, and at this point the one thing I think most of us can agree on is that we could do with a beer.  With that in mind, I'm sharing my recipe for traditional Bavarian style wheat beer.  I've been perfecting the recipe this year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot.

The Reinheitsgebot ("purity order" in German) is a piece of legislation adopted in Bavaria in 1516 that regulated what ingredients could be used in beer.  To some extent it was health and safety legislation, because in 1516 preventing beer from going off was a serious problem.  Brewers experimented with various additives in an attempt to increase their beers' shelf life, and unfortunately these additives were sometimes toxic.

The Reinheitsgebot stayed in force until 1987, when the EU rightly determined that it was an objectionable barrier to free trade, but its legacy still dominates the global beer market.  Most German beer is still brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot's specifications, and even here in Australasia most commercially produced beer complies with the purity order.  It has become part of the German beer tradition.

Originally the law required beer to contain only barley, water, and hops*, but German beer drinkers quickly found this list was too restrictive.  It effectively outlawed a number of traditional German beer styles that used different ingredients, including wheat beer.  So the list of permitted ingredients was expanded, and the first exception to be made was wheat.

My wheat beer recipe is a traditional Bavarian style, and doesn't comply with any version of the purity law because it contains honey and spices.  It isn't a historical recipe, in fact it's an extract recipe** rather than an all-grain recipe, but it tastes great.  It's a bold, full flavoured wheat beer with citrus top notes and smokey, honeyed undertones.


1.7 kg wheat liquid malt extract.  I use Mangrove Jack's Bavarian wheat, which already contains hops and has a packet of yeast under the lid so I do not need to buy these ingredients separately.
1 kg wheat beer enhancer
3 tbsp honey (approximately)
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed slightly between your fingers to break them open
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves

1 pack of carbonation drops for bottling – these are optional.  You can just use sugar or glucose syrup, but the carbonation drops are easier and more convenient.  I recommend them.

This recipe will give you 23 liters of beer, or 6 US gallons.


The secret to brewing good beer with malt extract is to ignore the instructions on the side of the malt tin.  Instead, bring 3 liters of water to the boil, then add malt, beer enhancer, and spices.  Stir until everything is completely dissolved.  Boil the wort, stirring regularly, until the protein break occurs and foamy white stuff starts to form on the surface.  Once the protein break has occurred you can take the pot off the heat and leave it to cool for a while.

While the wort cools you can clean and assemble your fermentation bucket, and re-hydrate the packet of yeast that came with the malt extract by putting it in a bowl of warm water with a little sugar.  Pour four or five liters of cold water into the fermentation bucket, then add the wort.  Add more cold water until you have 23 liters of wort in the fermentation bucket.

Pitch the yeast when the wort reaches somewhere around 20 degrees Celsius  (18 to 23 degrees is apparently the optimal temperature range for ale yeasts), and ferment the stuff for two weeks.   I find fermentation can be a little slow to start with this recipe, but it should start within 12 hours.  As long as there's a kraeuzen on the top it'll be fine.

After two weeks the beer is ready to be bottled, and it should be conditioned in the bottles for at least two weeks.  Four weeks, however, is ideal.  If you drink it earlier it's likely to taste slightly "green".

*  Remember, this was over 300 years before Louis Pasteur.  They did not yet understand the role yeast plays in fermentation.
**  At some point in the future I'll do a post on the history of malt extracts.  It's more interesting than you might expect.


  1. Interesting! Unfortunately beer all tastes the same to me, and I prefer not to drink alcohol for health reasons, but the process and how it evolved through history fascinates me.

    I found some posts on a site called Four Pounds Flour, which is about historical food and drink, including the author's attempts to recreate historical recipes and processes. You may enjoy her post about her symposium (the ancient style, with drinking), and her post about spruce beer, a popular beverage in U.S. colonial days:

    1. Thanks Cathy, these links look really cool! I must see if I can get hold of some spruce tips and give spruce beer a try next year. I did once have a very nice juniper beer from the US, and presumably the flavour would be similar.