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What is a beer mug?

Beer - supposedly the absolute favorite beverage of the German people.
Its traditions go back centuries in Europe. The average beer consumption per head in Germany is around 100 liters per year. But what’s the best way to enjoy a golden brew? Of course, you can drink one directly from the bottle or a regular glass. The most classic means of consumption, however, is the beer mug. Typical of the beer mug is its cylindrical, sometimes slightly bulgy form.
There are beer mugs with or without a lid. The mugs are usually made of glass or stoneware ; however, they can also be made of tin, porcelain, silver, earthenware and other materials. Often, the jars are decorated with paintings, such as badges, inscriptions or drawings of famous sights. Since beer mugs are seen as typically German, they are a popular souvenir among tourists.

The history of the beer mug

The first steins, as we know them today, date back to the 16th century, but their origins go back much further since monks and nuns had been brewing beer as far back as the Middle Ages. At that time clay pots were the most commonly used tools for drinking. Over time the beer mug as we know it was developed from the simple clay pot. The lid on the pitcher also dates back to this time. People in the Middle Ages once placed a piece of felt on their mugs to protect its contents from being contaminated with dirt and bugs. This turned out to be quite impractical, however, because the felt became soaked from the drink. Those who could afford it protected their beer with a lid of silver or tin. This was the foundation for the tin lid on the beer mug as it is used today.

Regional differences in beer drinking

A cool beer in the beer garden or cozy in the pub after work – that’s how the Germans like to enjoy their national drink. There are of course small differences, depending on the state and region, however. There are not only many different types of beer, but also the description of the mugs varies. Depending on the region, the vessel may be called a Steinkrug, Schnell, Walzenkrug, Humpen, Bierseidel, Bierbembel or Pinte. If you want a half a liter of beer in northern Germany, you should ask for a Halbe. If you’re in Berlin, you might ask for a Henkel. In southern Germany, it’s known as the Maßkrug; in Bavaria it’s usually called a Maß (Mass).

The beer mug at Oktoberfest

At Germany's biggest folks festival a beer drunk from a beer mug, called a Maß, is an essential part of the experience. In Bavaria, beer is almost one of the basic foodstuffs. Every year thousands of people from all over the world flock to the Bavarian capital to celebrate Oktoberfest. Nowadays the beer is only served in glass mugs in order to prevent theft. The genuine Oktoberfest beer mug is made of clay and is redesigned every year. The 1-liter mug is a perfect Oktoberfest souvenir and can also be a great gift for someone at home. Due the great demand, Oktoberfest mugs are regarded as items for collectors and enthusiasts.

Table of Contents

A Maß is a unit of measurement that one might know from the Bavarian Oktoberfest. But what is "a Maß" of beer exactly? The Bavarian unit translates to exactly one liter of beer. Half a liter of beer would be called a "Seidel" or "half measure". If there is less than one liter of beer in the glass or mug, then the beer was poured badly.

The Maß is brimming

Only Franconia commonly uses the Seidel. Beer seems to be consumed in more moderate amounts there compared to the Oktoberfest in Munich. There the mug is not only the drinking vessel par excellence, but also a popular collector's item for visitors. They also make for excellent gifts (for example, with an engraving for a loved one’s birthday). Whether you prefer the beer mug with or without tin lid depends on whether you want to use it or hang it as a trophy on the wall. Originally, a Maß denoted 1.069 liters of beer. Today we use the metric system and the number was rounded off. The term "Maß", denoting a liter of beer, remained.

Mugs are not only popular in Munich

Whether you drink beer from a glass or clay mug is irrelevant. In Munich and Bavaria, everyone insists on drinking their beer from the traditional beer mug. The pewter covers were popularized in the 16th century. Today, the lids serve to protect against falling leaves. Even insects aren’t rushing to be saved from the beer. The Maß can be found not only at the Oktoberfest in Munich, but also at other Bavarian beer festivals, many of which are held abroad. A lot of mugs can be found in America or Japan. Beer mugs with richly decorated tin lids are especially popular collector’s items. Real Bavarians always drink their beer from their own mugs if possible. Only at the Oktoberfest does one accept without complaint that everyone has to drink out of a glass mug. Despite the hustle and bustle of Oktoberfest, the beer is rarely spilled. The number of Maß that one can hold down varies from person to person; once you’ve had too many, you’ll hardly remember the rest of the evening.

Beer is just for men

Women often don’t like drinking beer from the mug, and tend to refuse politely when offered a Maß. That’s why there are alternatives to the most popular Bavarian men's drink. The ladies can enjoy a glass of wine or champagne instead. Even if you’ve had one too many, you can always sober up again after Oktoberfest.

What is a beer mug made of?

A beer mug can be made of different materials. At various times in history, different trends developed in the production of beer mugs and steins. Today, you’ll find above all glass mugs at the Oktoberfest in Munich. Some famous collections have priceless steins which are hand cut out of crystal. Historical mugs are often unique and individually designed pieces that are worth a considerable amount. In taverns there are oftentimes richly decorated stoneware or earthenware beer mugs hanging on the walls. Many of them have a tin lid. Otherwise, beer mugs can also be made of metals such as silver or tin. Porcelain or faience beer mugs can also be found in some collections.

A little information on materials

A drinking vessel made of silver is often a historical mug, and can hold either a half or a whole liter of beer. The stein made of real silver was just as beloved in northern Germany as it was in Scandinavia or the Baltic States as the precious metal was popular with wealthy people. These days, silver beer mugs are much sought after by collectors. Their collector value often far exceeds the actual value of the materials. Beer mugs made of tin are often simpler, but can also be decorated with engravings. Tin was popular in virtually every era; guilds especially were known for using this metal.

The most common material for a beer mug, however, was clay. The classic mug usually comes with straight sides, despite many of its predecessors having sloping sides. The Maß beer mug is still the most commonly used beer mug today, and every Oktoberfest you can buy one as a collector’s edition. The liter of beer that the mug contains is also known as Maß. Half a liter of beer is therefore half a Maß at the Oktoberfest. Faience steins originated in German faience manufactories beginning in the middle of the 17th century. Later, so-called mill mugs were created. The faience mugs were usually only fitted with a tin lid once they had arrived at the actual seller. This was done for packaging reasons.

A little more info on beer mugs?

In the late 19th century, earthenware became the most frequently used material for the production of elaborately decorated beer steins. The most popular are the reserve mugs. These were given to recruits at their dismissal as a personalized souvenir. Reserve mugs were often very colorfully painted and carefully customized. Student beer mugs, given to members of various student organizations, were similar. Stoneware Seidels from "Villeroy&Boch" were the most well-known.

Glass, too, was used early on as a material for making beer mugs. Some famous examples are the colossal imperial eagle mugs with glass covers from around 1600. Later glass mugs came with handles and silver or tin lids. While glass beer mugs were a leisure restricted at first to the mid and upper classes, they later became more common and are now usually collector’s objects. Everyone who visits Oktoberfest understands how important glass is for beer consumption in Bavaria.

What is the difference between a traditional beer mug and beer glasses?

A fresh beer at the end of the day or at a social gathering is essential part of the day for many Germans. In this nation of brewers, the drink is held in particularly high esteem, which is why the whole thing is taken so seriously. The atmosphere, variety and of course, the glass, has to be perfect in order to experience the real joy of drinking beer. As every beer drinker knows, there are many glasses.
But what exactly is the difference between a beer glass and a rustic mug? Are there any significant differences between the varieties of glass?

Beer mug or stone mug?

First of all, what kind of mug do you mean? A beer mug, also known as a Seidel, is made of thick, rustic glass, while the stone mug is made of porcelain or, in rare cases, of real stone. Stone mugs are less popular. Glass mugs, on the other hand, are typically not the hottest selling items at Oktoberfest and other such events; they are usually for party hosts and collectors.

The characteristics of a beer mug

The primary advantage of the large container with the handle is its stability. A thick glass with a handle for a firm grip just screams rustic. Although the mug contains only 0.5 or 1 liter of beer, it looks like there’s a lot more, which encourages faster drinking, obviously exactly what the host wants.
On the other hand, mugs are a particularly flexible beer container. Thanks to the uniform cylindrical shape, the aroma disperses constantly and uniformly. If desired, a pewter lid can be used to preserve the aroma for a while longer. Different glasses are preferred depending on the type of beer being served. For a very carbonated beer, for example, glasses with larger openings are the better choice. In the case of low-carbon beer, the famous tulip-shaped glasses are best used. There’s a beer mug suitable to any occasion.

What does the classic beer mug have that the beer glass doesn’t?

Of course, beer glasses can be just as attractive at times as beer mugs – it just depends on the mood. While the beer glass promotes a refined, high-brow beer-drinking atmosphere, which is desirable in some circumstances, the traditional mug provides for a uniquely satisfying experience. It creates a relaxed and oddly masculine ambience. The drinker enjoys a comfortable and stable grip while waiting for the beer to take effect.


Beer glasses come in many different shapes which are typically designed depending on the types of aroma profiles they are meant to deal with. The mug is flexible, however, and therefore an optimal all-round solution for both private and commercial use.
It is very important to be aware of the effects different glasses have in order to create the right atmosphere for your host house or for your celebration.

How heavy is a beer mug?

The answer to this question depends on a few things. First off, is the mug is empty or full? Second, the material, the capacity and the size of the beer mug will determine the exact weight of the item.

Weighty issues

A mug made of glass is heavier than a standard beer glass. Stoneware, crystal or earthenware beer mugs really tip the scale. A stone mug with five liters capacity is heavier than a Maß meant to contain only a liter. Servers at the Oktoberfest can carry up to 20 beer mugs to the tables at a time in order to cope with the crowds. To calculate the weight of a single Maß, complex calculations are required. Let us assume, for example, an average beer mug height of 20 cm and a diameter of 10 cm for a mug that can hold a liter of beer. It must also be taken into account that the bottom of the vessel is usually quite thick. The quantity of glass used defines the empty weight of the beer mug. The pewter cap is usually not considered in this calculation.

The world record in the beer pit

A few manufacturers of Oktoberfest mugs have actually revealed how heavy a real Oktoberfest mug with nothing in it is: exactly 1,350 grams. This means that a mug filled with beer must weigh 2,359.1 grams. Each waitress at the Oktoberfest therefore is carrying around 2.3 kilos per Maß. A seasoned waitress working at the Oktoberfest can carry up to 18 mugs at a time for a total weight of 41.4 kilos. A seasoned waitress can even do this without letting a single glass break. It would be most unpleasant for the guests if a bunch of beer were spilled, after all. Tin lids are not generally used in beer tents. The world record at for number of Maß carried at once is currently 27 mugs, with the winner being allowed to spill a maximum of 10% of the beer. At the start, the load weighed 48.3 kilograms and had to be carried 40 meters. They were glass mugs, not stone. A competition mug or one served on the Theresienwiese (location of Oktoberfest in Munich) traditionally has no tin lid. A stone mug full of beer would be comparatively heavy if its height were identical and it were filled with the same of amount of liquid.

What are the origins of the beer mug?

The beer mug is a traditional drinking vessel, which originated in the 16th century in Germany and is traditionally used for the enjoyment of beer. In addition to its practicality as a drinking vessel, it is also popular as a decorative item and is also a popular collector’s object for young and old. Collectors are particularly delighted by the beautiful motifs, and the varying shapes and materials. Depending on the region, the beer mug has different names, including Seidel, Schnelle, Bierbembel, Maß or Halber. Most German speakers, however, know it simply as a Humpen.

From bulky to slim – here’s how the beer mug looks

The most important feature of the beer mug is its cylindrical, slightly bellied shape. In addition, it usually has a handle, a thumb rest, a hinged cover, and a foot ring. The cover is usually tin, but can also be made of porcelain or glass. A number of different materials can be used in its manufacture. For example, there are mugs made of glass, earthenware, silver or tin. There are, however, also porcelain or faience mugs (artisan-made earthenware with a porcelain-like white glaze of tin oxide). Most mugs have inscriptions, are printed or are painted. In terms of size, they can hold varying amounts of liquid, with mugs that can hold up to five liters of beer.

Where are the origins of the beer mug?

To be very precise, the history of the beer mug reaches back to the Middle Ages, when beer brewing began in monasteries and beer was drunk from clay mugs. Later, during the Renaissance, the cylindrical mug with handle, thumbscrew and hinged lid was created in the Romanesque countries. Around the middle of the 16th century, the mug had appeared in Germany, in the Hanseatic coastal cities of the North and in southern Germany, where it was commonly used by the middle and upper classes to drink beer. Above all, the tall, slender and lidded mugs were developed during this time. In the 17th century they were given a broader and tougher appearance. Alongside these developments, further advancements were made including special varieties influenced by handicraft; these types can be regarded as wholly separate to the varieties meant purely for drinking. Materials such as porcelain, ivory, serpentine stone or amber were mainly used.

Beer mugs today - the passion for gathering and fun

Today beer drinkers and collectors alike take pleasure in this traditional drinking vessel. As a means for drinking beer, they are most commonly seen in the beer gardens of Munich. They are also very popular among collectors. Every year the 1-liter mugs, traditionally shown at the Oktoberfest in Munich, are displayed with that year’s unique motif. In addition, there are many collector’s items produced in limited numbers, and certain breweries or beer brands also make their own; all of these are collected with great passion by enthusiastic fans. The different motifs on the mugs are well liked by many people so beer mugs are often purchased as a personal souvenir or gift.

Why do beer mugs have lids?

In Bavaria, some people use a beer mug, which has a richly decorated metal cover. Beer mugs with and without a pewter lid have a long tradition in Bavaria. Many people in Germany prefer to drink their beer from a glass. They serve it in an old-fashioned tulip-shaped beer glass, drink it directly from the bottle or serve it in a Seidel. Beer mugs are the Bavarian symbol for comfort and tradition and serve as status symbols in their own right.

Beer mugs for collectors at the Munich Oktoberfest

The Maß is the standard amount you’ll get when you order a beer at the Oktoberfest in Munich. It is a sacred duty for men and women to indulge in a traditional Bavarian beer and baked chicken. Both the beverage voucher and the food voucher are included in the admission ticket to the beer tent. If you like, you can pick up a personalized glass or pewter mug and enjoy the striking statement it makes at home. Every Oktoberfest there is a new beer mug for passionate collectors to obtain. The richly decorated Bavarian beer mugs can be bought with or without a lid. The lid is often made of tin and is outfitted with a hinge. It can be opened using the lid lifter where the thumb is placed. The lids are often richly decorated. Bavarians sometimes say that a beer mug without its lid is incomplete. After all, it prevents insects or leaves from falling from the chestnut tree in the beer garden into the Maß. Enjoying the beer without interruption is an almost sacred right to the Bavarians.

A cool liter of beer, please

At summer temperatures, a once cold beer can quickly become lukewarm, and stale beer doesn’t taste good. The thick-walled mug and its lid prevent the cool beer from getting warm too quickly. The tin lid had its origins in the 16th century as the world was beset by epidemics. Many diseases were spread by insects. It was decreed, therefore, that the beer mug and other drinking vessels had to be protected with a lid. This is how the mug got its pewter lid and how the Bavarians came upon their favorite drinking-vessel. Depending on the decor, the material and the time required for production, one can also guess at the social class of the original owner. Tin or silver covers meant the owner was likely well off. The lid was often used as a status symbol.

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