Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Glass Beer Drinking Vessels of the Middle Ages through the Early Modern Era

A good place to learn about beer drinking vessels is the permanent exhibits at the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) and the special exhibition Medieval Glass for Popes, Princes, and Peasants that is currently running.

A wide variety of glass beer drinking vessels were produced and used through the ages. Studying these vessels give one a finer appreciation for the way beer was consumed as well as the crucial role it played in social settings.

To the left is a tavern scene with men drinking; a cellarer below serving the beer. Obviously this is a gravity-fed cask beer as all beer was at that time. The beer is being served from a beaker popular in Italy during that time.

I would not mind being a cellarer.

The photo is from “Treatise on the Vices,” Cocharelli (Italy, late 14th century) Ms. Add. 27695, f.14. Copyright The British Library Board. All rights reserved.
The Humpen
Perish those thoughts. Right now!

The Humpen, a large vessel with a lid, was made between 1570 and 1740. Before the 17th centry, it was called a Willcomm (welcome). Tall glasses such as the Humpen were meant for communal use. They often held more than a gallon of beer! Guilds, hunting societies, fraternaties, and important families placed their own enameled decorations on these glasses. The elaborate Reichsadlerhumpen was painted with the imperial eagle and coat of arms of the electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

Medieval Ale Glasses
These two tall glasses were made in Medieval times in different parts of Europe and used for drinking wine or ale. The one on the left was made in the Czech Republic or Germany and the shape of the one on the right was popular in the Low Countries (what is today Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany), and northern France.

The Boot
Ah, the boot. Here is the earliest example I could find from Italy or the Southern Netherlands, late 1500s.
The Unbreakable Beaker
Now here's an advancement in drinking: the unbreakable glass! This one is from Germany, dated 1663. It is inscribed “Trinckh mich auff und wurff mich Nider/heb mich auff so vill mich wider 1663” (Pick me up and throw me down/lift me up and fill me again 1663.)

The inscribed hop flowers are realistic and the finger-holes are a functional touch. Don't you agree?

Can someone tell me why these ever went out of style?
The Roemer
The Roemer was a glass widely used in Germany and in the Low Countries during the late 16th and early 17th centuries for drinking both beer and wine. A roemer was decorated with a blob of glass called a prunt. Prunts made it easier to grip the glass and were also decorative. Flemish painters often depicted the roemer in their still-life paintings. The popular green glass became fashionable among those who could afford Venetian ware.
The image to the left may be a stangenglas but uncertain. This glass predates the passglas back to the late 1500s and can have elaborate enameled decoration. There were no drinking game lines around the glass like the passglas.
Now we're talkin' social drinkin'! This is a Tall Beaker or Passglas from Germany or the Low Countries, 17th century.

The Passglas is usually clear or translucent and decorated with trailed or enameled horizontal marks around the glass, down the sides at regular intervals. They had a base and were tall and thin. The rings are sometimes simple lines in the glass and sometimes more elaborate.

The idea was to gulp the beer only down to the next line and then pass the glass to the next person.

Variations of this design had the intervals become wider as they reached the bottom of the glass--the better to inebriate you my friend.

A further improvement to the Passglas was the groundbreaking and patented Inebriator Deluxe model. This glass had rings spaced at wide, regular, intervals. Between a set of rings was a another ring spaced perhaps 1/4 the distance between the rings. The purpose of this design was so that a different stronger liquor like Schnapps could be poured in a smaller amount on top of a layer of beer--and so on and so forth as the Passglas was filled.
Posset Cup
Here's a posset cup from England, 1730-1750. Posset was a popular drink in the 18th century. It consisted of hot milk that was curdled with wine or ale, spiced or sweetened, and thickened with oatmeal or bread.


To each according to their ability to taste!
Trick Goblet
From England 1690 to 1730. This vessel has an elegant shape, but it is difficult to drink from because of the vacuum effects created by the lower bulbs!
English Ale Glasses and Decanters
Here is an example of an ale glass (1730-1750) and decanter (1760-1770) from England. The small size of the glass is a clue to the increased potency of ale as a result of improvements in the brewing process.

The decanter's impressive etching is indicative of the level of esteem that a fine ale was held. The hops are especially attractive.

There was a refinement in beer drinking vessels over this time period that is clearly evident in their design. From the bulkier sustenance vessels to smaller and more refined glasses used more for entertaining.

It would be beneficial to study modern beer drinking vessels in the future.

The author wishes to thank the staff of CMOG for their assistance in the preparation of this story.

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