Beer glasses encompass everything from modern pint glasses covered in bright advertising to the earliest hand-blown glassware in America. In the 18th century, water was not served at meal times, so glass goblets were created to hold wine, beer, ale, or cider instead. Early stemware designed for beer can sometimes be identified by engraved hops-and-barley motifs; these glasses were usually tall and narrow, mounted on a stem, and finished with a rounded base.
The glass cups, mugs, and tankards of the 18th century were relatively simple in form, and smaller than contemporary versions, as the ale they held was brewed much stronger than modern beer. Beer mugs were generally made in a cylinder or barrel shape with a handle and no foot. Tankards were the largest mug style, and sometimes included a flattened thumb-rest at the peak of the handle’s curve. Because they were manufactured in glasshouses that produced bottles and windows, early American mugs were almost always made from colored glass.
In the 1820s, the development of a glass-pressing technique by John P. Bakewell allowed glassware patterns to be mass produced, quickly diversifying the shapes and styles of beer glasses. The simplest-looking tumblers with smooth sides and no foot were quite difficult to blow by hand, but pressed glass molds made this form commonplace.
Throughout the 19th century, ale glasses grew taller to accompany more liquid, and were often made of thick, pressed glass to be more durable for public bars or restaurants. Most commercial establishments served their beer in simple conical tumblers with flat pressed panels, made in various solid colors. Others resembled smaller versions of soda fountain glasses, with fluted, tapered bowls that narrowed at bottom above a short circular foot.
During the 1880s, as breweries expanded and pasteurization allowed them to send products longer distances, beer-glass advertising became popular. A few of these early advertising glasses used color-embossed logos, but most relied on an acid-etching silkscreen process. Leading up to the start of Prohibition in 1920, a new technique of frosting glasses became popular, whereby an opaque layer was sprayed onto the smooth glass surface in various patterns.
Once alcohol was legalized again in the 1930s, glassware designed for beer was often colorfully painted with a brewery’s name and company slogan, such as “Walter’s Beer tastes better” or “Arrow 77: It Hits the Spot.” Straight-sided tumblers became the most common, leading to the modern conical pint glass or “shaker” glass made in the standard American pint size of 16 ounces.
However, since the U.S. has never instituted legal restrictions on beer serving size, American bars have used all manner of serving vessels, including varieties like the tall pilsner glass, with a slightly indented waist just before its base, and the goblet or tulip-shaped glass mounted on a short, sturdy stem.
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