Drinkware manufacturers keep pushing out new designs, but some classics are so inherent to beer styles and cultures that they are here to stay. This is particularly true for those associated with lager beer. Here’s an overview.
First things first: North Americans often use the term “stein” to refer to a large beer mug, often made of glass. However, in German, stein means stone—so if a mug is made of glass, it’s not a stein. Germans use the term steinkrug (never just “stein”) to refer to a stoneware mug—often abbreviated to krug.
As stoneware, a krug is an exception in modern drinkware, yet its use never fully went out of fashion in Bavaria. You can also find it at more traditionally minded places in the United States, such as Notch Brewing in Salem, Massachusetts. Founder and head brewer Chris Lohring says the krug has “insulative properties and will keep your beer colder in the warm months, as well as protect the beer from UV light that will bring on a skunk aroma. So, it really is the perfect beer-garden vessel.”
The most ubiquitous type found today is called the Keferloher. (Since 1978, a commemorative version called the Jahreskrug is sold at Oktoberfest each year.) The Keferloher is typically a half-liter or full liter. The name comes from a Bavarian town called Keferloh, known for a rowdy market where the mug was popular.
While Notch sells a half-liter steinkrug, it also has an exclusive one-liter steinkrug club, limited to 50 members. For a spot to open up, Lohring says, “someone must die, move away, or request a pastry stout in one to be kicked out.” They also use the vessels at their annual Starkbierfest, where they release a doppelbock and insert a blazing hot loggerhead (metal pole) into the mug of beer. This adds complexity by caramelizing malt sugars. The big steinkrug, Lohring says, “is the best vehicle for the hot poke from the loggerhead.”
Though more prevalent in the past, pewter lids can be found on some steinkrugs, especially the ornate souvenirs. In German, this lid is called a zinndeckel.
Ideal for: dunkel, helles, märzen, festbier, kellerbier.
The mass (a.k.a. maß, masskrug, or maßkanne) is one of the most iconic beer-drinking vehicles and is most closely associated with Oktoberfest and Bavarian beer gardens. It became a staple of the annual celebration in 1892.
The term mass (pronounced like “moss”) refers to its volume—in Bavaria, this was originally 1.069 liters, later revised to a practical one liter. Modern versions can hold more than a liter, but the extra space is meant for a proper amount of foam. (As with all vessels noted here and made in Europe, the mass includes a fill line, so that customers can be sure they get what they pay for.)
The design includes a dimple, or kugel. Accordingly, you may see this mug called a masskugel or Münchner kugel, though modern producers such as Sahm, Rastal, and Oberglas call it Isar (named for the river that runs through Munich; this also applies to smaller versions).
Ideal for: helles, märzen, festbier.
Historically, glasses bearing the name Tübinger have come in varying forms. These trace back to the late 1800s, to a fraternal organization based at Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany. It’s a stocky style of mug found in several sizes up to a half-liter. The contemporary glass known as the Tübinger is specifically a Tübinger kugel—meaning that it’s dimpled.
Wayfinder Beer in Portland, Oregon, is one brewery that uses the Tübinger for some of its lagers. Cofounder Charlie Devereux describes it as “very wide, which is great for beers where you’re not focused on maintaining a spritzy carbonation.” He says the Tübinger “is like a ‘bowl of beer.’ It feels like you can stick your whole face in it. For subtle lagers, which often have relatively muted aromas, to be able to immerse your nose physically in that big chamber of headspace and ‘breathe’ the beer ... it’s fabulous.”
While its origins are German, today this style of mug is most closely associated with Czech lager. There, some may refer to it as a Tübinger, though many use the general terms krýgl or sklenice s uchem for a mug. It’s also common to refer to a mug based on its size, such as třetinka (0.3-liter) or půllitr (0.5-liter).
American brewers with reverence for Czech traditions are using side-pull taps, which produce a different mouthfeel and a denser foam than a standard tap (see “Gearhead: Side Pulls and Slow Pours,” beerandbrewing.com). Both Wayfinder and Notch use these taps (and at Notch, you may find your beer placed on a ceramic coaster, as is sometimes done in Czechia). In contrast to standard pouring practices in the United States, the side-pull faucet is inserted into the mug, and the foam is poured first. Clear beer is poured next, and it lifts the foam to the top of the glass. The Tübinger’s wide, bulbous shape is perfect for this dispense method, and a skilled bartender can effortlessly crank out a perfectly poured mug in seconds.
Ideal for: Czech lager.
The pilsner glass is arguably the most elegant of all lager drinkware. Bierstadt Lagerhaus (Denver) head brewer and co-owner Ashleigh Carter says the pilsner is “a delicate glass for a delicate beer.”
Pilsner glasses come in slightly varying forms. Most are in the shape known as a pokal, with a small stem above a base. From there, its profile may be conical, cylindrical, or it may be a pilstulpe (pilsner tulip), with a curvier shape. Some are stemless, and some others are both stemless and unfooted. The common denominator: They’re slender and typically hold less than a half-liter. Whatever the benefits to the bar, the smaller size might help you to finish your drink before it gets too warm.
Bierstadt uses a straight-sided 0.3-liter glass for their famous Slow Pour Pils. This classic art-deco style glass arrives with a pilsdeckchen—a doily-type napkin placed around the stem to catch condensation.
Finding the right level of carbonation for a “delicate beer” is important. Bierstadt applies a slow-pour method that removes some carbonation from the liquid and takes about five minutes to complete. The result is a rocky, lingering head. The narrow pilsner glass supports that photogenic, above-the-rim foam. According to Carter, “the service of the Slow Pour Pils is very deliberate—the beer, the glass, the presentation. It matters in the same way everything matters here. It’s not one thing 100 percent better; [it’s] 100 things 1 percent better, and the devil is in the details.”
The pilsner glass is closely associated with German beer culture. Though Pilsner Urquell does offer a glass in this style, everyday consumption of that beer and other Czech lager is typically in Tübinger mugs.
Ideal for: German pilsner.
The willibecher may be the most basic lager glass. It may also be the best all-around option.
While not unprecedented in form, the simple but well-designed cup was first sold in the 1950s by Ruhr Glas in Essen, Germany. It’s named in honor of its creator, Willy Steinmeier (and becher means cup in German).
This is the go-to glass for Suarez Family Brewery (Hudson, New York), known for focusing on “ales of mixed fermentation, unfiltered lagers, and other crispy little beers.” They serve the latter two in willibechers in their taproom. In Portland, Wayfinder also uses it for an array of styles. You may even find Lohring at Notch occasionally forgoing the Tübinger for a willibecher when enjoying one of his Czech lagers.
The double-conical shape subtly provides head retention and a good aromatic experience. Its simplicity and availability in varying sizes also make it versatile. As such, it’s an excellent glass to have on hand at any bar or taproom.
Ideal for: pretty much anything.
Bockbecher (not pictured)
Similar to the pilsner glass, the bockbecher is also a pokal, but stouter in shape. Sizes vary, allowing a proper match for strength (which can range from 6 to 10-plus percent ABV, depending on the sub-style). That said, one will typically accommodate 0.2–0.3 liters.
The Einbecker Brauhaus in the Northern town of Einbeck, where bockbier originated, uses this glass. In Bavaria, bock took on a stronger form as doppelbock. Here, Ayinger uses the bockbecher for its doppelbock, Celebrator.
Monks at Paulaner get credit for creating doppelbock, but that brewery doesn’t use the bockbecher glass—it offers a goblet instead. An exception is during Munich’s Starkbierzeit (or “Strong Beer Season”), an annual festival in March that features doppelbock served in one-liter keferloher steinkrugs. Weizenbock, meanwhile, is typically served in the traditional vase-shaped weizen glass.
Ideal for: bocks.
Regardless of your lager preference, take your lagerhead tendency to the max and find the right glass for the style.