German beer steins along with Oktoberfest and all of its accompanying traditions play their part in a rich, storied history. Specifically, German drinking sports a cadre of vessels for drinking, all of which born for specific purposes.
Ever since English royalty commissioned German glassblowers to craft vessels fitting of their hunting celebrations, Germans have taken to the task and created a number of unique glasses, many of which have been elevated to the status of art.
Perhaps most famous of all German drinking vessels, the stein comes from the German word for stone (due to the fact that Steins were originally crafted from earthenware and stone). In fact, “beerstein” refers to the sugary residue left over from repeated drinking of beer from a vessel!
Over time, German Beer Steins were crafted from a number of materials, including wood, pewter and other metals, and glass. Each material was chosen for its unique aesthetics, leading to a wide array of beautifully crafted works that are to this day highly valuable and collectible. It’s even said that the iconic-hinged lid was developed during the time of the Black Plague, as a measure of defense against the flies!
German Beer Steins. The Beer Boot As German Glassware
Another iconic German creation is the famous boot of beer. The original incarnation of this mainstay was the “yard of ale”. This was a long, tapered tube of glass, with a bulb blown at one end. This device could then be filled with beer and used as a drinking vessel. It was originally utilized by stagecoach drivers and similar working individuals.
As the story goes, a military commander in the German army promised his troops that, should they succeed in battle, he would drink beer from his own boot. Upon victory, he commissioned a yard of ale shaped like a boot as to avoid the taste of his own footwear. It is said that since then, the device has been a fixture at celebrations, passed around tables in a clockwise fashion.
Partygoers take turns sipping from the device. The bulb of the boot creates an air pocket that, when tipped completely, causes beer to rush out and spill over the drinker. The patron who causes the boot to bubble is required to buy the table another round!
In addition to these, German brewers pioneered a number of glasses designed for specific types of beer. The most utilitarian of these is the willybelcher, or German pint glass (not technically falling into the German Beer Steins category). This standard of German drinking has a thick bottom and a tapered middle.
A weizenglass, used to drink wheat beers, has a thin bottom and a neck that flares wider. A stange is a small glass, typically used for kolsch beer. Its cousin glass is the becher, a shorter and thicker version, is used for altbier. Both of these glasses are typically served in a wooden tray, with pegholes cut out to hold them. In this way one can serve a wide variety of brews in convenient sampling sizes.
Image Courtesy of Mathias’ Flickr Page
German drinking vessels are as storied and unique as the festivals that employ them. Over the centuries a number of innovations and artistic endeavors have led to some of the finest and most recognizable glasses worldwide. These have been elevated to symbols, associated with craftsmanship and of course, merriment!