A Pail of Ale, Please

At the heart of any self-respecting European brewery is adherence to The Bavarian Purity Law. Written in 1516, this marks one of the very first food regulations in history. Today the actual language of the law is quite arcane, replete with references to times of year called Michaelmas and Georgi, a measurement known as “Kopf,” prices in Pfennings and Heller âÂ?¦ Even the country in which it was written, Bavaria, no longer exists. Check out this excerpt from the law:

“Should, however, an innkeeper âÂ?¦ buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf.”

(Remember having to read Beowulf in high school�?)

A single paragraph, however, has helped shape beer and beer consumption in Europe for almost five centuries:

“âÂ?¦we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.”

Sure, there’s no confiscation and such nowadays, but there is bad publicity.

Thanks to the Bavarian Purity Law, European brewers have been able to produce organic beer in modern times. The ingredients are simple and control of the organic content therein is therefore simplified. Today, several brands of European beer rank among the finest organic beer in the world.

Scotland’s Border Gold shows how modern adaptation of the Bavarian Purity principle shapes the final product. Border Gold Organic Ale is composed of organically grown Scottish barley and – get this – hops from New Zealand and for such an elegant reason: New Zealand, it turns out, has an absence of pests to hop plants and thus organic hops growing becomes a simple matter. For their efforts, Border Gold has been bestowed with medals at the New Zealand International Beer Competition and the British Bottling Institute Competition. The 6% alcohol by volume level is swell as well.

Perhaps the oldest family-run brewery in the world, Founders Brewery of New Zealand has been in business for 152 years and five generations. Indeed, Founders founder John Dodson is credited with importing much new technology, methodology and equipment to the far side of the world. Surely, the New Zealand beer industry would not bear the reputation it does today without Dodson and Founders.

Founders are leaders, too, in updating their standards to today’s world of unhealthy product. All Founders beer and cider is free of genetically modified organisms and are strictly vegan, qualifications sadly becoming rarer and rarer.

The four varieties currently available include Red Head, an amber made in the Viennese mold; the nicely named Tall Blonde, golden lager done European fashion; Long Black, a black lager based on the German schwarzbier; and Generation Ale, a recent addition in the form of a nut brown ale. The first three all garnered medals at various Australian Brewing Awards, with the Long Black taking home a gold from Oz; Red Head and Tall Blonde took silvers.

European beer brands of today, at their best, are comparable in class and elegance to so much of the Continental’s products: automobiles, fashion, artâÂ?¦It should come as no surprise that much great organic beer comes from outside America. Now if only more of it could get to the inside of AmericaâÂ?¦

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to studying that Purity Law. Just what how much is a Pfenning in Euros? And is one worth a Pfenning? Could I get a better price in the pub Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½round the cornerâÂ?¦?

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