The History of Beer Steins
It is easy to become confused with the many modern terms surrounding steins and similar vessel designs. Traditionally, steins have been stoneware tankards featuring hinged lids. Today, steins have evolved to being available in a wide range of materials such as glass, silver, pewter, wood, plastic, and other materials for ornamental or practical uses. An abbreviation of the German Steinzeugkrug, a stein is traditionally a stoneware tankard with the feature of a hinged lid. While they may be considered ornamental to most people today, the design of the stein grew out of a feeling of necessity in the sixteenth century.
Following the tragic Black Death that had ravaged Europe for many years, there had been a revival of interest towards sanitation by society. It was around this time that the Steinzeugkrug defined itself as an entirely new vessel from previous tankard and mug designs. Summertime in the late fifteenth century saw a massive increase in the population of flies in central Europe, prompting food protection and sanitation laws by the entry into the sixteenth century.
Implementing these laws were several German-speaking principalities, which required that all containers of food or drink be covered to bar entry by the pests that had been plaguing Europe. To meet the new sanitation standards, the thumb operated lid became a standard for all mug and tankard designs, becoming wildly popular across what is now Germany. It should be noted that in addition to spurring the development of the beer stein, the new sanitation laws that had swept across Germany would foster in a new age for beer, with the passing of new purity requirements soon to come.
Imagine drinking an ale made from cabbage, eggs, ground ivy and fly agaric mushrooms, a disgusting thought to say the least. It was this notorious combination among other that had been brewed in local breweries for hundreds of years across Europe. In addition to reducing the competition of purchasing different grain between bakers and brewers, the Reinheitsgebot was implemented to maintain a level of quality in beer that had never been seen before. The only ingredients that could go into beer were now water, barely, and hops, making for a cleaner, longer lasting, and better tasting beer than ever before produced. To meet the need of containers for transportation and consumption of this new beer, new materials were needed.
Until the late fifteenth century, Germans of modest means commonly owned pewter drinking vessels, with wealthier Germans owning vessels of silver. Those metal containers were still expensive and impractical for use as everyday or large capacity drinking vessels. It would not be until the Renaissance that stoneware would evolve to become a practical material for the stein, and even then it was expensive. Reaching a highpoint in the eighteenth century, the use of stoneware steins began to fall to glassware in the beginning of the early nineteenth century. It wouldn't be until the late nineteenth century that stoneware steins would regain their popularity as commemorative works and decorations.
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