The most fabled law in all of beer turns 500 this year. The Reinheistgebot was introduced in Bavaria in 1516 and mandated, among other things, that German beer be made only from water, hops and barley. Yes, the law predates the discovery of yeast.
But prevailing consumer attitudes toward German beer are suggesting that the half-millennium-old dictum should be put out to pasture. Only 25% of young Germans consider the Reinheistgebot to be important, and are increasingly drawn towards import beers from countries (especially America) where brewers are free to experiment with any kind of flavoring adjunct they please. In the face of this competition, traditional German beers are seen as bland and uniform.
Consider the excitement generated by California-based Stone Brewing about their $25 million Berlin brewery. Local observers believe the Stone migration will kickstart the conversation in Germany about what beer means to their national identity in the 21st century, and if foreign styles flavored with all manner of ingredients will be allowed to change the face of German beer for the first time since the dark ages.