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Culture

German Beer: Worth a Scientific Look

It only takes four ingredients to make a bottle of German beer: Hops, malt, water and yeast. Add anything else and you'll turn a national drink into a motley punch unworthy of consumption in the country's beer gardens.

They're really just testing beer

Whether it's taken on tap, in a bottle or a multi-liter bucket, beer takes center stage on April 23rd -- Germany's day devoted to beer. On this day in 1516, Bavaria's then ruler, Duke William IV, passed the so-called "purity law."

While the name seems to imply an age-old method of enforcing Teutonic morals, the decree is actually the world's oldest food-related law and limits beer to just three ingredients: hops, malt and water. Yeast is a more recent addition to the list.

Not quite a beer binge

In Germany, beer has become more than just the national drink. Beer brewing is also a science students from around the world want to be schooled in. While the eager scholars enjoy the beer tastings, the procedure resembles a scientific process more than Oktoberfest bender.

Inside a brewery

"It's a very full-taste," said Hiroshi Yamashita, a Japanese brewery student at the Institute for Brewing Technology in Weihenstephan, a city about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) north of Munich. "It's a very typical German beer, the bitter flavor is stronger than Japanese beer."

Employed by the Asahi Brewery, one of Japan's largest beer producers, Yamashita is in a position to know all about Japanese beer. Now he wants to find out what it is that has given German beer such a good reputation -- something he can't do at home.

German beer enjoys a good reputation around the world

"It was my dream to study in Weihenstephan," he said. "In Japan there are university programs to study the making of sake, but not beer brewing."

Though brewing can also be studied at Berlin's University of Technology, Bavaria's reputation as the traditional German beer capital draws more people to the Weihenstephan institute, part of Munich's University of Technology.

"It's a fact that tradition plays a large role in Weihenstephan," said Werner Back, a Weihenstephan brewing technology professor. "The Bavarian state brewery brewed beer here for the first time in 1040."

Brewing tradition fascinates students

It was the almost 1,000 years of brewing tradition that convinced Texan Ben Bailey to struggle through five extra years of German lessons so he could be accepted into Weihenstephan's ranks.

"I could go to any brewery in the USA and say that I studied in Weihenstephan and they would know what I can do," he said. "At the University of California Davis you can take a few brewery seminars, but there is no complete program and here everything is concentrated on brewery."

Whatever color it comes it, "real" German beer only has four ingredients

Studying the composition of German beer is becoming more and more popular. More than 100 of the program's 250 students started this year, about 15 percent of them coming from abroad. The program isn't just about sipping foam leading many potential beer connoisseurs to drop out -- there are no figures showing whether this is due to the coursework or perpetual hangovers. While many students go on to ground their own breweries, others also work in the food or pharmaceutical industries.

Fei Qian, one of the students working his way through the institute's theoretical and practical portions, has developed a special relationship to Germany's amber potion.

"Once you've drunk a beer in Germany, you can develop a certain love for it," the Chinese student said. "And Weihenstephan is the Mecca of beer."

DW.DE