Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

E300 in Czech Beer


There have been a couple of comments about the widespread use of E300 in Czech beer, both here (in a comment from Max Bahnson on the post about Czech beer as a protected name) and from David over at Beer Oh Beer (where Max again casts his vote against it). Nothing more than ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, E300 is added as a preservative as well as to prevent the development of haze in beer.

I can understand people might want their favorite beverage to include no food additives whatsoever, but I also appreciate the use of vitamin C in my beer instead of, say, E211, also known as sodium benzoate, a preservative believed to potentially damage mitochondrial DNA, cause premature aging and possibly even cause Parkinson’s disease. (E300 it is!)

In fact, quite a few Czech beer labels show E300 on the back, including some of the very best — the one above is from Herold’s absolutely outstanding Bohemian Black Lager. But how much E300 are brewers allowed to put in your favorite bottle? The answer might surprise you.

Drumroll, please… According to EU regulations, there is no maximum amount of E300 that can be added to a beer. Nor is there any stated limit on any of the following:

E270, lactic acid
E301, sodium ascorbate
E330, citric acid
E414, acacia gum

For all of these E’s, the regulatory principle involved is one of quantum satis, meaning that there is no maximum specified. (The phrase can be parsed as “however much is needed.”) In regulatory terms, that might not be terribly reassuring. But in the case of vitamin C, it’s hard to imagine that even a high dosage would be anything other than beneficial.

Here’s a link for a PDF of Directive 95/2/EC, which regulated the amounts of food additives other than colors and sweeteners in the European Union.

Here’s a link for a PDF of Directive 2003/114/EC, which amends Directive 95/2/EC.

If you search through the documents, you’ll find that EU regulations also allow:

100 milligrams per liter of E405, propane-1, 2-diol alginate (propylene glycol alginate) in beer
1 gram per liter of E1520, propan-1, 2-diol (propylene glycol) in all beverages
200 milligrams per liter of E210 (benzoic acid), E211 (sodium benzoate), E212 (potassium benzoate) and E213 (calcium benzoate) in kegged alcohol-free beer

In addition, there are many weird E-numbers that are allowed to appear in all foodstuffs, not just beer. Go on, read it, but don’t open the file if you’re about to eat. It’s sure to put you off your lunch.

So if vitamin C is all we’re up against, I think I’m okay with it. I haven’t heard if ascorbic acid can affect the taste of beer, but I would imagine that it might contribute to the slight citric finish in some Czech brews, especially Czech dark lagers, which are hopped at much lower rates than Pilsner-style beers, and thus might need another natural preservative like ascorbic acid to stay good longer.

Here’s my final thought: vitamin C is an essential nutrient for life on earth. Many organisms synthesize it internally, though humans, of course, do not. It helps our bodies to neutralize free radicals. It helps protect our cells from oxidative stress. It helps our bodies absorb iron from food and is believed to reduce the risk of stroke. But more importantly: if a beer with a bit of added vitamin C can taste as good as Herold’s Bohemian Black Lager, how could it possibly be bad?


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  1. I still insist that I wish they didn’t use it, but I’m not going to stop Primator, Herold or Opat beers just because of that. As I said in Beer Oh Beer, I don’t think it affects the taste in the least (though once drinking a Samson, which also has it, I was left with a suspiciously chemical aftertaste). Anyway, there are much worse things they could be using as it happens in other countries….
    Now, as for dark beers. Bernard, Regent and Rohozec can making lovely darks, withouth using E300…
    It can be also because of the costs of hops, that are the most natural preservative for beer and has many things that can make your life longer and happier (the most important if which is that is used in beer)

  2. Very informative post, and I’m with you, Evan: Vitamin C is fine by me. But that other stuff — propylene glycol alginate!?

  3. Does vitamin C continue to exist unaffected in the presence of alcohol? If so, hooray for that.

  4. Interesting. Ron Pattinson has ranted at length about why the German beer purity law is a bit silly, but you can’t deny it’s a great marketing trick. Additives, whatever their purpose, just seem a bit sinister these days. Preservatives, especially, send a message to the consumer that the producer is willing to make a small sacrifice in quality to increase the longevity of their products, and maximise profits.

  5. That is exactly the issue I have against E300. Hops are a natural preservative, and so are other natural products (which yes, can alter the taste of the beer, but why not try?), so the impression I get from seeing E300 is that the brewery is cutting costs somehow.
    I’m not a supporter of the Bavarian purity law (which actually survives only as a marketing gimmick), I think it is quite silly and very protectionist, but ther is something about the German’s refusal to put any sort of chemical additive to their beers.
    Anyway, I insist that I won’t stop drinking Primator just because of that.

  6. If there were sufficient levels of Vit-C present in beers containing E300 then there is probably some EU directive would require the beer produces who use it to provide nutritional information stating that it has a percentage of RDA per 100ml.
    My point is that this is still a chemically derived additive, not a natural additive. Whilst the German beer purity laws can be ripped apart in debate, beer is essentially a natural product (aside from the arguments of pesticides on hops, water pollution, etc) so why add chemicals.

    Just out of interest, Ascorbic acid can also be an additive in plastics and photographic development solutions.

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