"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer."(allegedly) Abraham Lincoln
A Political Tool
Beer has always had a political importance. Due to the wealth that beer generates and its grassroots popularity, political leaders throughout history have taken an interest in brewing technique and practice. They have always viewed beer as a valuable asset for raising finance and keeping the people on side.
Church Vs State
In the 12th and 13th Centuries, Monks' brew privileges, and the wealth they generated, created a battle for beer power with the secular leaders. The Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, started to appoint his own bishops so he could gain control of church privileges, of which brewing rights were an integral part. While we can wonder about the role these brewing rights played, the fact is Henry IV was subsequently excommunicated by the Pope.
20 years later Henry marched on Rome, arrested the Pope and appointed his own man as pontiff - perhaps a rather drastic measure to ensure you can keep on brewing your own beer!
Bierzwang or Bierfreiheit
(The origins of the European single market?)
Early laws across Europe were established to control who could and couldn't serve beers in particular areas. In the 13th Century, "Bierzwang" - literally "beer coercions" - were enforced in the Holy Roman Empire. This meant only local beers could be served in local establishments, thus protecting the economy of the region.
It was not until 1803, during the Napoleonic conquest of central Europe that this was rescinded by the "Bierfreiheit" - literally "beer freedom" - a type of single market for beer across the Empire.
In 1487 in Munich, the Reinheitsgebot stipulated that only water, hops and malt could be used in brewing beer. This was in order to control beer production and keep the money flowing straight to the rulers.
In 1988, the European Court of Justice lifted the Reinheitsgebot, allowing ingredients allowed in other foods to be used in the production of beer. However the lifting of the law only concerned imported beer, and beer brewed in Germany must still abide by the Reinheitsgebot.
In 1993, a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot appeared, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast could be used for bottom-fermented beer. Top fermented beer is subject to the same rule with the addition that a wider variety of malt can be used, as well as technically pure sucrose and beet sugars.
Beer, Tax and War
Queen Cleopatra suffered a huge loss in popularity toward the end of her reign, arguably more for implementing the first ever tax on beer than for her wars against Rome which the tax helped pay for!
Beer tax was often introduced in times of war notably during the Crusades and the English Civil War. The First World War brought in draconian restrictions on the brewing industry. Tax levels went through the roof and the legal strength of beer was reduced dramatically. Prior to 1913 beers with an ABV below 7% were known as "Milds".
After the war, high taxes remained in place but beer strength never returned to its former levels.
Beer and Society Today
Today, social, health and economic issues related to beer continue to attract politicians’ attention across the globe.
Thanks to its rich consumer insights and the important contribution it makes to national economies, the brewing sector can make valuable contributions to developing effective and economically viable laws.
Brewers can also help shape drinking habits for the better, including by expanding the footprint of no- or low alcohol options.
For a view from the world's leading brewer on key EU policy issues affecting beer, please visit AB InBev's blog www.ab-inbev.eu