The Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, was decreed in 1516, and set prices and ingredients for beer production. This was not the first, nor was it the last version of laws about beer, many of which were written for consumer protection purposes, as well as to raise money in the form of taxes and protect high value grains from being wasted on the brewing process (wheat and rye especially).
Many people think that the law from 1516 is still in effect, but it has been through many versions and morphed into the "Biersteuergesetz," or Beer Taxation Laws in 1952, which taxes beer according to its "Stammwuerzgehalt," or specific gravity, as well as declaring which ingredients can be used for a beverage to be called beer. In 1984, Germany lost a lawsuit against the European Union, which claimed that the "purity laws" were a form of protectionism. Now only German beer brewed for the German market is held to certain ingredients, everything for export and import (into Germany) has another standard, which may allow further "additives."
By the way, even the German beer allows for malt other than from barley and some sugar to be added to top-fermenting lagers, which paves the way for Weizenbiere (wheat beers), Koelsch and Altbier. Other types of beer can still be brewed in Germany, but they may not be labeled "Bier."
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