On nearly every brewery tour that my husband and I have taken, the tour guide quizzes the group. They ask, “What are the ingredients in beer?”
Some tour guides tout their brewery’s adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law (prohibiting anything other than water, barley, and hops to be used to brew beer).* These guides will then often ask the group, “What are the 3 ingredients in beer?”
Calling back to the Reinheitsgebot is a logical way for American breweries to connect themselves to the history of brewing. Although some ales were consumed in the colonies and in the early years of the nation, beer as we know it today was introduced to America by German immigrants. Their legacy lives on in the Pabst, Miller, Budweiser, and other brewing companies of American origin.
Calling back to the Reinheitsgebot has also had the unfortunate side-effect of prompting a level of snobbery when it comes to what we now call “adjuncts.” The German tradition of brewing only with water, barley, hops, and yeast originated in efforts to control both the quality of beer and the price of grain. But modern beer quality is no longer a guessing game (Master Brewers are scientists, not artisans) and the price of grain is controlled by modern law and market forces, so there is no reason to shun beer brewed with various grains, fruits, spices, honey, pumpkin, etc. These brews harken back to an even older tradition of brewing, when women (alewives) dominated the industry and used a variety of ingredients for various effects (beer was brewed not only as a safe beverage but also as a medicinal one).
The current explosion of American craft beer brewing owes a great deal to brewers’ willingness to experiment with adjunct ingredients. I’ve tasted brews that were spiced with jalapeno, brewed with blueberries, flavored with coffee, and infused with bourbon. A three ingredient beer, while enjoyable, is only one facet of a tradition that dates back to ancient Sumeria.
*the Reinheitsgebot pre-dates the discovery of the existence of yeast.