I read recently that one of our greatest drives is the quest to satisfy one’s curiosity. My visit to the Zoar Tavern with my friend, where we drank Warsteiner in 0.4-liter pilsner glasses, bears out that statement. After getting home that day, I saw that my Warsteiner glasses held 0.3 liter, and I was curious about the number of ounces they held versus those at the tavern. This led to study of liters versus ounces and a study of my beer mugs and glasses.
Looking up “Stein” in a German dictionary during my thirst for beer knowledge — German nouns are capitalized, as English nouns were until the early 1800s — expecting to see “mug” as the English equivalent, I was surprised to see the word “stone.” Within the entry I found “Steingut,” meaning “stoneware,” and upon reflection I realized that I knew the word meant “stone” because the brochure for Sugarcreek’s Swiss Festival, held in late September, includes in the schedule of events the “SteinStossen” in which athletes hoist boulders over their heads and throw them for distance.
The English dictionaries say that “stein” probably came from “Steingut,” but in Germany they call the mug for drinking beer a Krug. If you ask your server at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus for a stein, she’ll probably bring you a rock, making you feel like Charlie Brown on Halloween. “Stein” is an accepted term in English, but “mug” will also do.
The standard mug holds a half-liter of beer. A half liter is 50 centiliters, a centiliter is equal to 0.34 ounce, so If you divide centiliters by 3 or multiply by 0.34, you’ll have the approximate measure in liquid ounces. A half liter is thus equal to 16.9 ounces.
The Krug is often tapered lighthouse-like from bottom to top, but some mugs are cylindrical with a short taper at the top. The narrowed opening gathers the beer’s bouquet. The mug with the pewter hinged lid in Germany is called a Steinzeugkrug, but in America that’s what we envision when we hear the word “stein.” Many historians believe the lid was introduced as a hygiene measure after the bubonic plague of the 14th century.
The jumbo mug, which holds a full liter, or 34 ounces (100 cl times 0.34), nearly three bottles of beer, is called a Mass Krug. The glass version, the one you see German waitresses carrying three to a hand, is the Seidel. Most mugs were made from clay until glassware was developed, and the introduction of pale colored lager in more recent times encouraged the use of the Seidel so the drinker can appreciate the beer’s translucence. Light-colored beer, called Hell or Helles in Germany, is a fairly recent beer style. My dad got a kick out of that name and kept a Hell beer bottle on his workbench.
Most European mugs include markings indicating capacity. The measurement is usually stamped on Krugs left of the handle near the top. One of my mugs is marked directly below the handle’s top junction with the mug proper. Even my diminutive German mug that I use as a penholder at work is stamped with its capacity, 1/8 liter, which is 12.5 centiliters or 4.25 ounces, a mark I never noticed until this week, and a mug about the size of a coffee cup is marked 1/4 liter, which is 25 centiliters or 8.5 ounces. My German friend Jutta gave me a miniature mug, about the size of a shot glass, from Munchen (the real name of Munich) in Bavaria (she says with pride that Bavaria is not Germany) that holds 5 centiliters, or 1.7 ounces.
European beer and wine glasses are also usually marked with their capacity, on the back side, opposite the beer name. My Warsteiner pilsner glasses, which have round bases, taper from top to bottom and are the height of a beer bottle, are marked 0.3 liter, which is 30 centiliters or 10.2 ounces. I noticed long ago that a bottle of beer doesn’t quite fit in those glasses, requiring an initial drink during pouring. The 0.4-liter glass, however, holds 13.6 ounces, so a bottle of pilsner easily fits.
My curiosity is satisfied, and I have a new understanding of mugs and glasses. I can look at a Krug and know its capacity, and now I understand why those Zoar Tavern glasses seemed just a bit bigger than my home glasses. It’s time to pour.
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