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German Beer Boots: What You Need to Know

When you think about Oktoberfest or German beer in general, a boot-shaped glass of beer may come to mind. While this has become a fixture in American party culture, its history goes back much further.

What is a beer boot (das boot)?

They are made from either mouth-blown or machine-pressed glass. The traditional standard beer boot is two liters, but you can find them in various sizes.

What does das boot mean?

The German word for boot is stiefel, so the proper word for beer boot in German is bierstiefel. “Boot” actually means boat in German. So Germans do not refer to a beer boot as “das boot.” The nickname “das boot” is thought to be inspired by the 2006 film Beerfest (more on that later). So if you ever go to Germany and try to order a “das boot” you might not like what you get in return.

The alleged histories

Now that you know the basics, let’s go all the way to the beginning, which legend says started with English (!!!) hunting and horse riding clubs in the 1800s. This is when pint-sized mugs shaped like lavish riding boots with spurs and straps were offered up to wealthy Englishmen. Why? To show off their extravagance!

But the ritual started to fade until the mind-1800s in Prussia, which is now part of Germany.  This tale says a Prussian general promised his troops he would drink a beer from his own leather boot in exchange for a win on the battlefield. When his men were victorious, he had to make good on his word. So the general commissioned a glass likeness of his boot to spare himself the nauseation of drinking beer from actual footwear.

From there, the curious vessel made appearances in World War I. German soldiers were said to pass around a leather boot filled with beer before battle for good luck. They would slap the boot before and after taking a drink and passing it to the left. Eventually, American soldiers brought back the beer boot tradition after World War II.

Then Beerfest, a film about two brothers traveling to Germany for Oktoberfest and stumbling upon a secret, centuries-old competition with beer games, was released in 2006. The beer-boot craze had became mainstream.

How to drink from a beer boot

No matter the beer boot’s origin, if you’d like to take this tradition into the present day – there are some things you should know.

The shape of the boot will cause a large air bubble to form as the beer is consumed. When the bubble makes its way to the toe with the tilting of the glass, it causes the remaining beer to surge toward your mouth at a fast rate. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll end up with beer all over your shirt!

The trick is to release the bubble slowly. To do this, start drinking from the beer boot with the toe pointed directly away from you. As the bubble moves down the glass, slowly rotate the boot 90 degrees in either direction so that by the time the bubble reaches the toe, the toe is pointing to the right or left. This lessens the pressure, ensuring a smoother and cleaner drinking experience!