Don't you hate when you've been enjoying a thing and the government up and outlaws it?
Centuries before Prohibition brought a temporary halt to (legal) alcoholic beverage consumption in America, Bavarian fans of so-called "ancient-style" beers were left high and dry when Duke Wilhelm IV enacted the Reinheitsgebot, making it illegal to manufacture beer using anything other than water, hops and barley.
The "German beer purity law," decreed in 1516 and still in effect in modern times (though now with yeast as an allowed ingredient), was meant to clean up and regulate a largely cottage industry that tended to make and preserve its products with whatever was on hand (say, "soot, poisonous roots and sawdust," according to Wikipedia).
Other, less-magnanimous big picture motivations may have been at play as well, pointed out Biff Morehead, owner of Colorado Springs' Smiling Toad Brewery.
"Religion is a big factor in this, too," said Biff, as he prefers to be called, pointing out that some of the herbs, spices and extracts used as bittering agents in traditional beer production were redolent of paganism.
"Wormwood was supposedly an aphrodisiac, and so the church said, 'Oh no, we're not putting that in beer,'" he said.
Smiling Toad's mystical-ingredient-fueled contribution to the Pilgrimage of Pints, a sudsy scavenger hunt that serves as a prelude and discounted-ticket quest for the sixth annual Feast of St. Arnold beer fest June 9, would have earned Reinheitsgebot-type punishment "by the Court authorities' confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail."
Isn't beer liberty nice?
"Before the German purity law . they'd use sage or horehound or wormwood. But that (law) kind of brought the end to the gruits," said Biff, whose brewer Fred Davis used ginger and anise seed in place of hops to create his timeless recipe. "It's different. There's no bitterness."
It's fitting that the lead-in challenge to a fest celebrating the seventh-century Frankish bishop and patron saint of beer, St. Arnold of Metz, should tip a hat to the erstwhile brews that made it all possible.
"We asked the brewers that they mold their Feast of St. Arnold beers after older ancient recipes," said Birdie Lowery, a church warden at Chapel of Our Saviour, festival volunteer and St. Arnold's Acolytes of Ale brewer. "I think a lot of the brewers did some variation off those recipes."
Sample the beers that the seventh-century saint might have made himself by picking up a Pilgrimage "Cartogram" at one of the participating Front Range breweries. (Details at feastofsaintarnold.com.) Then make your way around the board, visiting breweries and drinking special Pilgrimage Pints; get 10 stickers and earn half-off single admission price to the Feast of St. Arnold. Collect all 15 stickers and get discounted admission plus a commemorative tasting glass.