German brewing is famous for the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the Bavarian Beer Purity Law, but Bavarian beer regulations have forced one craft brewery to stop production of their popular milk stout, and several other beer styles may be on the chopping block.
According to German craft brewer Camba Bavaria, they received a visit from the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety in 2014, who took samples of Camba beers to be tested. Several months later they received an order to halt all sales of the Milk Stout as this internationally recognized beer style is not considered beer by the Bavarian government.
Milk stouts are brewed with dark roasted malts just like regular stouts, but they have more residual unfermented sugars that add both sweetness and a thicker body. The sweetness and body in a milk stout comes from lactose, a type of sugar that is found in milk. So milk stouts don’t actually contain milk, but get their name from the sugar derived from milk.
THE GOVERNMENT’S REASONING
(This is all according to Camba and I have not been able to obtain a copy of the government’s report)
The government’s findings were that the beer was not a beer but must be classified as an “other drink” and that the term “Milk Stout” was an “invented,” or “fantastical” description of the beer. However, the report also stated that “Milk Stout” is a recognized traditional beer style among English speaking countries, and then went on to argue that consumers may be confused or misled into mistakenly thinking that Milk Stout is a beer.
The nearly 500 year old Reinheitsgebot states beer can only be made with malt, hops, and water; yeast was added to the list after it was understood that the microorganisms, and not little baby angels, were the source of fermentation. This law was replaced in the early 1990s, but current regulations still strictly prohibit what can legally be in Bavarian brewed beer. Some German states, such as Thuringen, do make exceptions for beer styles like Belgian Wit, which often contains coriander or other spices along with wheat and sometimes oats. Bavaria on the other hand makes no exceptions, and not only told Camba they could no longer sell their Milk Stout, but demanded that all of the remaining beer be destroyed.
Camba decided to get creative. They tried to market their Milk Stout under the category of “other beverage” with the name “KLIM TOUTS.” They then requested that the German government no longer tax the drink as a beer since the law says it isn’t a beer. Unfortunately the German government determined that it’s still considered beer for tax purposes.
With the inability to market Milk Stout as a beer, and still having to pay full beer taxes, Camba has been forced to end all production and sales of their Milk Stout, and other beer styles may also be banned in Bavaria. Recently Camba reported that agents of the same government office that investigated their milk stout returned to the brewery and took samples of their other beers, including their coffee Stout, saison, and strawberry hefeweizen.
And what do others think of this beer? Well, Camba’s bourbon aged version of their Milk Stout won the Meiningers (a prestigious German beer and wine industry organization) International Craft Beer Award for Best Beer of 2015, but don’t tell that to the Bavarians.