Why Do Beer Steins Have Lids, Glass Bottoms, Badges, and Artwork?

​​Beer is popular around the world, and some nations, like Germany, have developed unique ways in which to enjoy their beer. Germans created the beer stein in the late 14th century to 15th century as a decorative and sanitary vessel for drinking their favorite beers.  

In order to differentiate steins from each other, producers came up with an array of defining features. That’s why there are versions with ornate lids, artwork, badges, and glass bottoms. The glass bottom shows the quality of the beer, while lids provide protection. Badges show the village, town, or regions, where the beer stein was created.

Keep reading to learn more about the history of beer steins and the reason behind their unique design.

A brief history of German beer steins

Beer steins are practical and beautiful vessels for your beer. They look amazing, they offer great functionality, and they are durable. You do not need to invest much to drink your beer from a unique and creative stein. And they can serve as decor between drinks!

Beer steins first appeared during the late 14th to early 15th centuries. They were designed during the time when the Black Death ran rampant across Europe. Bubonic plague and flies were problematic at that time, so Germans sought ways to protect their food and drink while retaining its taste and quality.

There were regulations enacted regarding the quality and transportation of beer. People allotted more attention to hygiene while adding a personal touch to their drinking “tankard.” At first, stein manufacturers worked with earthenware, later integrating stoneware and advanced firing techniques. These methods not only met the necessary conditions but developed into an art form.

The 18th and 19th centuries are considered to be transitional periods. Producers began using different materials, like silver and pewter, which became very popular. This is also the time when folk art and general artwork were added to steins, with villages often having their own unique designs.

Why are beer steins so different?

At first, Germans sought to create beer steins that were simple and functional, but they evolved over the years.

Breweries and establishments started to customize steins. Various regions introduced their own design motifs. In some cases, every brewery had its own design. 

The actual artwork differs, as each artist has a different style. The art is what made steins popular then, and now. Nowadays, people enjoy collecting and drinking from vintage beer steins. They are beautiful, ornate, and offer that old-school feeling when drinking beer.

Where does the name come from?

A beer stein is a beer container or vessel with a handle and a lid. Some also use the word “tankard” to mean a stein. 

“Stein” is actually a shortened version of steinzeug krug, which means jug, tankard or stoneware. It first transformed into staene, then stein in 1855.

What are beer steins made of?

Initially, most beer steins were made with pewter, especially in England. Those are more commonly called tankards.

German beer steins are typically made of ceramic, porcelain, silver, or glass. They can also be made out of crystal, earthenware, wood, and other materials. As you can see, there are numerous material options, so manufacturers can be very creative. 

In some cases, producers try to utilize multiple materials, while implementing unique art and build. The resulting stein can be quite elaborate.

Traditional beer steins are made from stoneware, especially in Germany, but even there you can find many variations. Some of the modern iterations retain those old materials, but there are options made from modern alternatives, such as stainless steel.

Are beer steins safe to drink from?

Drinking from beer steins is safe as long as cared for correctly.

Make sure to wash your stein properly before using it to avoid any accumulated bacteria or mold. Many steins, especially vintage ones, should be washed by hand. If you take care of your beer stein properly, it will serve you for many years.  

If you would like to purchase your own, take some time to consider your options. The material(s) matter, some are more dependable than others and require less maintenance. Regardless of which you choose, drinking from a beer stein is safe, given proper care.

Why do beer steins have lids?

The main purpose of lids on beer steins is to ensure that the beer is protected from airborne bacteria.

Steins were first created due to sanitary regulations. People liked them, so the form has remained mostly the same. All lids have a thumb-lift, a lever that you raise with the thumb to open the lid.

The lid style can help you to determine the stein quality, age, and approximate price. Conical lids tend to be affordable, as they are among the most common.

Flat lids are made out of pewter and are often engraved. Stoneware lids, for example, use pewter fittings to keep the lid in place. It looks remarkable, and it provides durable quality.

Inlay lids have a lip and a pewter rim, maybe even an ornamental design. These are found on ornate beer steins, and they have inserts made out of wood, glass, or porcelain.

Lastly, you have the ornamental lids made out of pewter. These are usually found on vintage beer steins. However, some limited edition, newer models feature these lids. An ornamental lid is usually conical with lots of detailed handwork. 

Why do beer steins have glass bottoms?

Many beer buffs believe that a glass bottom allows people to see the overall quality of the beer. True, but beer steins ended up with glass bottoms due to a very different reason.

The stein’s glass bottom dates back to the 1800s. One anecdote claims that a captain decided to cut a hole at the bottom of his tankard and replace it with glass. That way, he could keep an eye on his crew, even while drinking.

Nowadays, beer steins have a glass bottom to demonstrate the beer’s clarity. That’s an important aspect of quality, so glass has become a staple in recent years.

Not all beer steins have it, but many modern models do.

Why do beer steins have badges or artwork on them?

There are many different types of beer steins out there. Some of them are ornate, others are simple. The most expensive ones feature incredible artwork. Why did producers add art or badges to beer steins?

The main reason was to express themselves, often while paying homage to the location. Some of these badges have the name of the region and the manufacturer’s mark. In addition, many steins are hand-painted, which further adds to their quality.

Adding artwork on beer steins was a sign of distinction. It showed the manufacturer’s prowess and craftsmanship. Plus, without decoration, basic beer steins all look very similar.

Manufacturers wanted to be noticed, so they added various elements, like painted pictures and badges, as a way to showcase their quality. 

Is your beer stein is valuable?

There are a number of different signs to consider when determining if your stein is valuable.

Most valuable beer steins are made in Germany, where manufacturers created ornate steins with beautiful, original artwork. Another tip to note is that the lid is lighter on the inside of the most expensive models. 

More expensive beer steins tend to illustrate a story. They show battles, historical milestones, biblical figures, or landmarks from the particular region. They are hand-painted with great attention to detail.

Vintage beer steins do not have a bump on the handle, which was added in the 1920s.

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