When most people think of UNESCO, they think of World Heritage Sites like the Galapagos Islands or of treasured antiquities like the Egypt’s pyramids. However, UNESCO also protects other things of a less tangible nature. The UNESCO Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list protects things that cannot be touched or felt, but that nevertheless have had an immense impact on culture and history. Germany’s beer purity law might make its way onto that list in the near future if the German Institute for Pure Beer has anything to say about it.
Germany’s law is one of the oldest laws in the world dealing with the purity and quality of food products and has been in place for almost 500 years. If the bid is successful, this will be the first of anything in Germany to make that particular list, thanks to the government’s odd stance on the UNESCO Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity project – they actually have yet to ratify it there.
Germany’s beer purity law, called Reinheitgebot, states the exact ingredients that a beer can contain (water, yeast, malt and hops), and was first enacted in 1516. That law has had an enormous impact on the German beer industry, but has also had a widespread influence on international breweries, too. Of course, Germany has seen a decline in the amount of beer citizens consume. It’s actually down to 102 liters per person from a high of 141 liters set back in 1991. 102 liters is a sizable amount though, particularly when you realize that the number is gathered from all citizens of Germany from infants to the elderly, whether they drink beer or not.
Part of this bid would also make beer the country’s national beverage, a choice that certainly seems fitting given Germany’s longstanding tradition of brewing excellence. The beer purity law definitely had a considerable amount of influence on making Germany one of the world’s leading countries for beer making and not only for beer consumption. Of course, nothing can be done until the government actually gets their act together and ratifies the UNESCO list. That might take some time as Germany is known for their love of governmental bureaucracy and red tape. It would be nice to see their longstanding law governing beer purity take their rightful place among the world’s most important intangible heritages.