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The Bierstiefel: A Brief History of Das Boot

Does drinking beer from a boot sound preposterous? Maybe. But for the members of the 19th century German troops, this was pretty normal. Upon emerging as victors of battles, German soldiers were offered a strange reward: drinking beer from their general’s boot.

This led to the invention of the bierstiefel, a boot-shaped glass that’s synonymous with German beer culture.

There’s another theory that traces the bierstiefel’s origin back to one of the earliest instances of ritual hazing, where soldiers would get one group member to take their shoe off (usually the one who had the muckiest boot!) and initiate a new member into the group by making him drink beer from the shoe. The idea behind this? To instill the spirit of loyalty, even if it meant putting up with something as gross as drinking from someone’s boot.

Did the bierstiefel originate in Germany for real?

While some sources claim that this bizarre tradition originated in Germany, others believe it can be routed back to England. Further  archaeological evidence suggests that people of Central Europe have been making shoe-shaped vessels for centuries. Whether those vessels held beer or not is something that’s still needs to be proven. Hence, the origin of this tradition is still a mystery.

What makes drinking from the bierstiefel fun?

While chugging beer from an actual boot may not be someone’s idea of fun,  drinking from a bierstiefel certainly takes your experience up by several notches. To start with, the unique boot shape of this glass causes a large air bubble to form every time you lift up the glass to drink your beer. When the bubble makes its way to the toe of the tilted glass it triggers a sort of tidal wave effect, causing the remaining beer to surge towards your open mouth at a faster than expected rate. As per the German rule for drinking from a bierstiefel, if the drinker gets splashed on his face, he will have to get another refill.

And how do you avoid the spill?

Not a fan of spilling beer all over yourself? A simple application of physics can save the day. When you’re ready to start drinking, lift up the bierstiefel with the toe pointed directly away from yourself. As the bubble starts moving down the glass, gradually rotate the boot by 90 degrees in either direction. This way, by the time the bubble reaches the bottom of the glass, the toe will be pointing to the left or the right, which in turn reduces the pressure and ensures a smooth drinking experience.

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