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german beer mugs and their contents (long)

updated mon 28 may 01


Janet Kaiser on sun 27 may 01

You obviously visited the wrong part(s) of Germany or
only indulged in fancy bars, restaurants and hotels,
Russel! Even in the beer drinking capital of the world
(Munich) the drinking traditions are being eroded by
international conformity!

But maybe you were in the wine-drinking areas along the
rivers Rhine, Moselle and Main where little beer is
traditionally brewed? Wine is always served in glasses,
but is sometimes served from a ceramic jug (usually
grey and blue salt-glazed stoneware) if it has been
brought up from a cask broached in the cellar, rather
than in a bottle.

Even in the beer brewing / drinking areas there are
differences... The North tends to serve beer in small
glasses of 0,3 litre (maximum 0,4-0,5 litre or about
half a pint). It takes seven minutes to pull a perfect
glass of this Pilsner or Lager type beer, which should
have a very high head of froth and is often accompanied
by a Schnapps chaser. (Schnapps being the generic word
for all "shorts" such as whisky, gin, vodka, etc. The
Schnapps of choice in the North is always "Korn" aka
"Klares" - a clear Schnapps made from grain, served
straight from the fridge.) Both beer and Korn are
served in glasses, and in a good Kneipe (pub) the Korn
glasses will also be kept in the fridge. Many makes of
Korn come in ceramic bottles. It looks like a toasty
brown or grey salt glazed body, but who knows? Could be
faux salt-glazed? I don't know.

Besides Pils, Altbier is a darker, sweeter beer made in
the North, Kölsch is the light lager-type beer brewed
in Cologne, Berliner Weisse is only available in Berlin
and is served with a dash of green or red (raspberry)
flavour in its own unique shaped glass: short, wide,
ridged on a stem. It is the nearest to sweet Belgian
beer you will get in Germany. Malzbier is a sweetish
malt beer, with very low alcoholic content and there
are several varieties of non-alcoholic beer.

Glasses are tall and narrow, or wide and short.
Depending on the area, the brewery, the type of beer
and the volume served, they may or may not have a stem,
be narrower at the top or at the bottom, straight or
bowled, made of heavy or thin glass. The variety of
glass shapes is tremendous and...

The further South you travel, the larger the beer... By
the time you arrive in Bavaria, a whopping one litre is
very common. Only sissies ask for a "small" beer (a
half litre) here. A litre or one kilogram of beer needs
a pretty sturdy container, especially if up to ten at a
time are being carried by buxom wenches to rollicking
tables and then clanked together in toasts... And of
course the south, unlike the North, need handles on
their drinking vessels.

Naturally the traditional salt-glazed stoneware is
still a pretty common material, even though advances in
technology now enable the production of large glasses
sturdy enough to withstand some pretty punishing ware
and tear. Anyone who has been to the Oktoberfest in
Munich or any of the many Bierfests elsewhere will bare
witness to that.

Even if they have not indulged there, they must have
noticed the souvenir shops all over Germany (in wine
and beer producing areas), which offer some pretty
amazing "Steins" or beer mugs to tourists. BTW the word
"Stein" as the English name applied to German, Austrian
and some Czech or Slovak beer mugs or tankards, is
taken from the material used to make them: Steingut (=
stoneware) rather than the word for the article itself.

But even these mass produced tourist monstrosities
cannot beat the range of styles and shapes found in
traditional and/or historical Steins. They also have
different names:

Walzenkrug: tall, straight-sided stein with handle,
usually with a pewter lid.
Humpen: a shorter, wider, bellied stein with handle,
without a lid.
Deckelhumpen: ditto with a pewter lid
Bierbecher: any size and shape, without handle or lid

The size, shape and decoration of the vessel being
quite local in nature, depending on the beer and/or
brewery. As there are hundreds of breweries (one or
more even in small villages), there are (in theory)
that many different shapes and sizes. However, the
introduction of weights and measures, plus the mass
production of both beer and drinking vessels during the
last century has sadly "standardised" so much. The vast
variety is now an historical memory and one reason why
old and antique Steins are commanding very high
prices... It is not unusual to see a price tag of
several thousand DM / Euros on rare tankards in

The beer of Southern Germany is "thinner" and called
"Helles" in and around Munich... Quantity taking
precedence of quality. But not all the time... During
Lent, when the whole population is fasting, some pretty
strong beer is/was traditionally brewed and consumed in
fairly large quantities. Any beer drinkers visiting
Munich should made a trip to the Andechs Monastery to
the South, which still produces some very special
beers. It also produces a strong cheese, which may well
account for the peculiar after-taste the
morning-after-the-night-before if you over-indulge in
Andechs beer!

Wiezsenbier is the only beer always served in glass in
Bavaria. It is made of wheat and has a high yeast
content. The glass is very tall, on a narrow foot,
widening out at the top third.

Another southern beer worth trying is Rauchbier, which
is a dark, smoked beer... Eckhard liked it when we
tried it in Bamberg, but it was too strong for my
palate. In the winter it is served mulled... Again in
ceramic mugs.

To save driving all over Germany, one visit to
Wiesbaden could help... A Kneipe there boasts 101 beers
on tap at any time and several hundred bottled beers.
The owner has to drive to Andechs to fetch their
supply, because the Monks do not "export" but were so
impressed by this dedication to real beer they allow
him a barrel or two... All the beer is served in the
appropriate vessels: ceramic mugs or glasses, depending
on the type of beer. How do you know you are getting
the right measure when served in ceramic? No, they do
not hold a finger in!! Each is simply weighed. If you
think you have been short-measured, they check in front
of your very eyes and if you are proved right... Well
you get a second beer free and the bar tender blushes.

As you may gather... I have done a lot of research over
many years in the field. Believe me, Russel, you were
so near and yet so far... I recommend another
educational trip across the border South of the river
Main a.s.a.p.! And try going native... Small, run-down
looking establishments where workmen congregate and
women are rarely seen. Also little country
pubs-cum-restaurants, often attached to butchers
shops... Avoid places which have Bacardi, Whisky and
Wine on the drinks list or vegetables (except
Sauerkraut) on the menu!

Janet Kaiser
The Chapel of Art . Capel Celfyddyd
Criccieth LL52 0EA, GB-Wales Tel: (01766) 523570

----- Original Message -----

> I've been to Germany several times and have never
seen beer drunk out of
> clay, only glass. Never even seen clay containers on
offer. Maybe my
> experience is too limited.