The history about beer steins

What is a beer stein?, Where do they come from?, Why is there a lid?, Who is "Gambrinus"?

The stein

Beer stein is the English word for either a traditional beer mug made out of stoneware or specifically ones with relief/ornaments which are sold as souvenir or collectibles. Steins are usually made out of stoneware, pewter, porcelain, silver or even wood and crystal.

They may have open tops or hinged pewter lids and usually come in sizes of a half liter or a full liter. They are often decorated in a nostalgic manner, especially in Germany with references to Bavaria or ancient German cities.



The history of the stein goes back to the 14th century. By that time the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe. In order to prevent an even bigger catastrophe Germany enacted a law stating that all beverage containers need a lid.

Throughout the next couple hundred years Germany as opposed to other European countries enacted many regulations on how their beer had to be brewed and transported. German beer became more popular which in turn made it necessary to find affordable and durable materials for transport.  Although many materials seemed to be sufficient, glass, porcelain and stoneware became the most common one's.

Later in the 19th century, beer stein manufacturers found out that each material has different advantages. Stoneware for example had the advantage that molds could be used for mass production of carved steins. Glass worked well for artists who included acid etchings, glass staining or multicolored overlays. Porcelain on the other hand could use molds for making steins with a particular shape modeled after object or people.

Collecting antique and replicated steins became very popular in the 19th century for individual people as well as for museums.

Primarily in England, beer steins were made with pewter, but many steins were known to be made of glass, porcelain and silver. Even wood, earthenware and crystal were used to make steins.

Since the introduction of glass in 1892, beer mugs for the Munich Oktoberfest have been made from glass for hygienic reasons. Beer mugs made of glass are typical for beer gardens and the Oktoberfest, and mostly come in sizes of 0.5 and 1.0 liter without a lid.


The lid

Lids on beer mugs/steins primarily have a sanitary function as they keep insects out of the beer. Additionally they have the advantage of keeping the beer cool, an objective best achieved through stoneware/earthenware steins.

Lids are usually made out of pewter and are equipped with a lever that is in reach of the thumb which making it possible to grab the stein, and open and close with one hand.



 "Gambrinus" is a legendary Dutch King who is considered to be the innovator of brewing beer.

The name "Gambrinus" was first mentioned in Antwerp, Netherlands in 1574. The name is probably the  result of a typographical error (Gambrivius) Because of its significance, many European and North American breweries borrowed his likeness respectively his name for their beer brands.