As a child, my sister and I had red plastic boot-shaped drinking cups. I have no idea from where they came but we loved those little cups! I also had no idea of the history behind those red plastic boots. The glass boot is a beer-drinking vessel. I am fairly certain that the strongest beverage enjoyed in our little red boots was overly sweetened Kool-Aid!
The 2006 comedy, Beerfest, featured this strange drinking vessel and popularized it among college students and patrons in bars everywhere. But, from where did the glass beer boot originate? Truth be told, no one really knows but there are a few stories out there. The most popular is that a German general, over a century ago, promised his troops that he would drink from a boot if they won a certain battle. When they won, rather than drinking from a stinky boot, he had a glass made in the shape of a boot so he could (technically) keep his word. In Germany, the glass is known as a “bierstiefel”. Other people maintain that guzzling from footwear originated from hazing rituals of men and soldiers dating back for centuries. As a test of courage, men were required to carry a hiking pole to drink their ale from a leather boot.
Anthropological excavations throughout Central Europe have yielded shoe-shaped terra cotta pots. Though we cannot be sure, one wonders if they were used in drunken revelry following a successful battle or otherwise unimaginable feat.
Glass beer boots exist that date back to England in the early 1800s. There, they were used in hunting and riding clubs and had a distinctive design based on the look of rising boots, that had a riding spur strap that was wrapped around the heel of the boot. The boots were handmade, blown glass and some were ornately decorated with silver rims. They held between 12-16 ounces of beer. In England, however, by the 1870s, the fad had disappeared.
Fads seem to appear and reappear throughout history and so, in the mid-1800s, beer boots could be found in Germany. The design was different and did not include the riding spur strap. The boots were extremely popular, perhaps because they held from one liter to thirty-three ounces of beverage! Like their predecessors, they were made of blown glass, but by the 1850s, a new glass-making technique arrived from the United States and the boots were made from machine pressed glass.
During World War II, American GIs discovered the beer boot and sent many souvenirs back to the United States. After the war breweries used beer boots as promotional items and eventually, many glassware companies produced and carried them in their catalogs. Some companies had as many as three to four different styles.
During the 1950s, the “Made in Japan” versions of the beer boot were ceramic. Styles evolved even more as beer boots in the United States took on the form of cowboy boots to promote beers marketed in the Southwest. After the 1950s, the popularity of beer boots waned until their revival due to introduction of “Das Boot” in the movie Beerfest.
Apparently the boot is very popular in college town bars across the country using hiking poles to get them there.. It is used in a variety of drinking games. But, if the drinker imbibes the contents very quickly with the toe of the boot pointing upward, rather than at an angle, a vacuum is created that eventually causes the beer to shoot out of the glass. This makes the boot very popular for initiating the younger drinkers in the group.
Today, you can find beer boots in a variety of sizes and styles and collectors can be very picky about their choices. There are even plastic beer boots and beer boot shot glasses out there! Now you know!