German Beer Steins: From Beer Boots to German Glassware

An iconic German creation is the famous boot of beer or beer boot. 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; thus a beer 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 such as beer boots 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!