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The History of Beer Mugs and Beer Steins

Beer has been around for over 6000 years. People had been drinking it out of variations of: clay, wood, leather and pewter mugs, or drinking sacks. Around the 14th century, after the plague killed over 25 million people throughout Europe, the beer mug evolution began. Swarms of flies infested Europe and as a result sanitation laws were put into place.

As a method of keeping flies away from food and drink a law was implemented and enforced which stated: All food and drink had to be covered to protect the public's health. From this point forward quality of food and drink increased, and the manufacturing of beer mugs with lids, Beer Steins, led to the evolution of beer mugs.

Beer Steins

Pewter

Pewter was commonly used for making beer mugs, these mugs were generally owned by the wealthy. Silver and glass beer mugs were expensive and only owned by the wealthiest people in society.

In the 15th and 16th centuries as the new health laws were being enforced, the use of pewter increased. A common lid being manufactured was a hinged lid that could be lifted by pressing down with ones thumb to uncover the beer stein.

Since pewter steins contained a high amount of lead; the use of pewter for making steins eventually decreased as people fell ill and died. However, pewter continued to be used for manufacturing the hinged lids.

Wood, Stoneware, Faience

With a new awareness to cleanliness, people were driven towards personal drinking vessels. Since the majority could not afford:

  • Pewter
  • Silver
  • Glass

They were buying steins made from:

  • Wood
  • Stoneware
  • Faience

Wooden Beer Mugs

The downside to using wooden mugs had always been that the wood absorbed the liquids, creating a terrible smell, and weakening the wood with every use.

Scandinavians and Germans worked to design durable wooden steins. The Scandinavians perfected it and developed steins made completely out of wood, including its hinge and lid. The wooden steins produced in Germany, had pewter incorporated in the design, lid, hinge, and decor.

Stoneware Beer Mugs

The word "stein" comes from the German word Steinzeugkrug, which mean stoneware jug. Stein became associated with beer mugs, because during the 14th century, when the health laws came into place, stoneware was commonly used to manufacture affordable closable beer mugs. The term stein is now used to describe a mug with a lid.

Similar to wood, the clay-like material used before the 1400's would absorb liquids leaving a rank stench after multiple uses. The clay material was fragile; these mugs would break quite easily. As a result this material was researched, tested at different temperatures until they discovered that they could vitrify the material, creating stoneware.

To add appeal to the beer steins, manufacturers hired artists to decorate the mugs with local folk art, historical and biblical scenes.

Faience Beer Mugs

Connections with China introduced the use of porcelain for manufacturing beer steins. In the 1600's rebellions affected China's export of porcelain, cutting the European countries off from Ming porcelain.

Europe had yet to discover how to make porcelain, but German potters crafted an alternative, faience. This material was not as durable as Ming porcelain; however the local art was more attractive to the customers over the foreign Chinese characters. Faience was also less expensive then the import.

In 1709, Europe created porcelain of its own, but since it was expensive, the porcelain steins were purchased by the wealthy.

Glass Beer Mugs

The mid 18th century, brought a new technique to manufacturing glass steins. Moulds had been developed which aided in the mass production of thick, strong glass steins.

At the end of the 1800's, the regulation was no longer in place to enforce food and drink coverings. However it took some time for the Europeans to stray away from manufacturing beer mugs without a lid.

Fluted (Pilsner) Beer Mugs

Following the discovery of the dangers of pewter, the English moved towards the use of glass for manufacturing beer mugs. The fluted beer mug was developed around 1928, and became popular with breweries for about 20 years.

A transition occurred when dimpled beer mugs were manufactured. It was said that they complimented the beers aesthetically and were not as fragile.

Dimpled Beer Mugs

The dimpled beer mug was produced around 1948. It provided a visually appealing vessel for all types of beers, stouts- lagers. They were however mainly used for the dark bitter beers, as during this time period, the bitter stouts were becoming a popular choice. By approximately 1964, the dimpled beer mug had replaced the use of the fluted beer mug.

Manufacturers had moved away from producing Steins, and moved towards the beer mugs and glasses found in use today.

Browse through our beer mugs.