Why do Americans call it a beer stein?

Answered by Louis Krause

Americans call it a stein because the word “stein” has become synonymous with a type of beer drinking vessel. The term “stein” actually originated from the German word “steinzeng” which means “stoneware” or “stone jug,” and “steinkrug” which means “stoneware jug.” The Germans have a long history of and drinking beer, and their stoneware jugs were commonly used to hold and serve beer.

The use of the word “stein” to refer to a beer drinking vessel can be traced back to the bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the 14th century. During this time, it is believed that hinged lids were added to beer mugs to help keep flies and other pests out of the beer. This practice was believed to help prevent the spread of disease and maintain the quality of the beer.

Over time, the term “stein” became associated with these lidded beer mugs, and the tradition of using them continued even after the threat of the plague had passed. The stoneware material of the steins also helped to keep the beer cool, as the thick walls of the mug provided insulation.

In America, the use of beer steins became popularized through the influence of German immigrants. German beer culture and traditions were brought to the United States, and beer steins became a symbol of German heritage and craftsmanship. Many breweries and beer halls in America started using steins as a way to serve and enjoy their beer, creating a sense of authenticity and tradition.

Today, the term “stein” is widely used in America to refer to any type of beer mug or drinking vessel, regardless of whether it has a hinged lid or is made of stoneware. It has become a generic term for a large, sturdy beer mug, often with a handle.

In my personal experience as a sommelier and brewer, I have come across a variety of beer steins in my travels. I have seen beautifully crafted steins made from stoneware or glass, adorned with intricate designs and engravings. These steins not only serve as functional vessels for enjoying beer, but they also have cultural and historical significance.

The term “beer stein” has become ingrained in American beer culture, thanks to the influence of German brewing traditions and the historical association of the word “stein” with beer drinking vessels. Whether it's a traditional stoneware stein or a glass mug, the term has become synonymous with enjoying a good beer in a classic, sturdy vessel.