There are few things in the beer world as traditional and characteristic as the stein glass or the modern rendition often called the beer mug.
I find that there's nothing better than drinking beer out of a stein when on a night out with friends. As soon as I see the server coming to the table holding a round of beer in steins, I cannot help but feel merry. It's a glass that demands a group of friends to start cheering and seems to embody the roaring good time that will ensue.
Of course, this may be just a psychological association of the glass with the infamous Oktoberfest festival, but I am okay with that. And, it's undeniable that the stein itself has some magic when it comes to drinking good German-style beer.
For example, here's the stein I have at home:
Most importantly, it's filled. Second most importantly, it's filled with the best beer to drink out of a stein, a Märzen. Third most importantly, the Märzen is also a Ballast Point's Dead Ringer, which, is one of my favorite Märzens.
The vessel itself is large. My stein is .5 liter, but steins can also be up to a full liter. At Oktoberfest, this is the size of traditional stoneware maßkrug or maß. The size, of course, helps move along the celebration as a stein glass already holds a bit more liquid than the standard American bottle or can, and potentially doubles the standard bar serving.
It's important to point out that the glass is sturdy and the handle lends itself nicely to repeated cheers, as well as allowing one to hold the mug for long periods of time without warming the beer.
The top of my stein, as its one of the more modern renditions of the stein, has a slightly conical inward inflection, which does help create a head and add a bit of a sniffer pocket to the mug. However, the traditional stein has a lid on it and is not conical on top.
The stein doesn't technically add anything to the taste of a beer, though some beer drinkers would adamantly disagree. The top of the glass doesn't particularly enhance the aroma of the beer. The sides are often straight with a little texture on the inside, which does help aerate the beer, but not much in the design of the mug is for taste. This glass is popular for its nostalgic pull, the volume of liquid it can hold, and drinking the Oktoberfest Märzen. For more information on Oktoberfest and the Märzen style, check out Gotbeer's very own Brian Coffey and his excellent brief history of the Märzen and Oktoberfest here.
Back to the glass, the word stein comes from the German and means stoneware or earthenware vessel. The word comes from a time when beer was drunk predominantly from pewter or earthenware cups.
The traditional stein as we know it was created in the 1400s as a result of the Black Death. The Germans required that lids be put on the pewter mugs so that disease carrying flies couldn't fall into the drink and infect the drinker.
The addition of the lids and advancements in pewter also became an outlet for artisans to embroider and carve the lids and mold the stein vessels into various shapes. Stein making became somewhat of an art, and the mugs were often sought after by collectors in the early 1900s and today.
While most contemporary drinkers don't drink out of the traditional stein, the pewter mugs are still quite popular at Oktoberfest, and the more modern glass beer mug counterparts are widely used in festivals and drinking at German-style biergartens. And that, ultimately, is the best reason to drink beer from a stein. While it had its pragmatic purposes in antiquity, it's now the perfect glass to drink Dead Ringer from, surrounded by a group of friends, and shouting German drinking songs until everyone's laughing and red in the face.
Be sure to find your perfect Märzen in time for one of the biggest beer festivals in the world. Prost!
Steve Pendergast is a beer and food enthusiast. After going to school in Albany, he's split his time between drinking beer and writing about it. He's always searching for a new craft beer to try, and loves finding the local brewpub to immerse himself in the unique taste that each town develops. When he's not writing or reading, you can be sure to find him sitting by a campfire with a bottle of Green Blaze in hand or hiking whatever mountains are close at hand.