German beer purity threatened by fracking say brewers

Purity Law

While companies such as Chevron Corp. have begun drilling exploration wells in countries including Poland, shale-gas production in Europe won’t make the region self-sufficient in natural gas, a 2012 study by the EU Joint Research Centre said.

Germany’s brewers point to what they say is the oldest food-safety regulation in the world to justify their concerns about fracking. The Reinheitsgebot, or “purity law,” was drafted in April 1516 at the instigation of Duke Wilhelm IV in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, now the base of Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand. The law states that only malted barley, hops and water may go into beer, with the later addition of yeast, which had not yet been discovered at the time.

The law, still in existence 497 years later, “guarantees a workable form of consumer protection at a time in which other foodstuffs often make negative headlines,” the Association of German Breweries says on its website. “German beer contains no artificial flavorings and no additives -- only malt, hops, yeast and water.”

‘Unreconstructed Classics’

The result is what beer critic Michael Jackson said on his “beer hunter” website are some “unreconstructed classics.”

German beer is enjoyed by a population that is among the thirstiest in Europe. Germany, which with about 82 million inhabitants is Europe’s most populous nation, also consumes the most beer: 89,853 million hectolitres (about 2.4 trillion gallons) in 2011, double the volume consumed in the second- ranked country, the U.K., according figures from The Brewers of Europe industry group posted on the association’s website.

In terms of individual consumption, Germans drop to third with 107 liters in 2011, edged out by their Austrian neighbors who drank 108 liters that year. Both countries are put to shame by the Czechs, each of whom consumed 154 liters, or more than five times the French.

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