Beer steins can be made from a variety of materials. Below we discuss the different types of materials used to make steins, , sizes and different ways of decorating the steins.
A wide variety of materials have been used to produce authentic German steins. Below we have listed and briefly describe the most prominent ones.
A pliable compound consisting of tin, copper and antimony. European pewter has a minimum tin content of 92%. Copper and antimony are added to harden the metal. The higher the tin content, the more silver the final color. A common misconception is that all pewter products contain lead. Although used in the past, lead is virtually never used to create pewter steins. Primarily, steins are component cast – that is, the lids, bodies, handles and special ornamentation are separately made. Pewter is also occasionally rolled or hammered. The final color is a result of the tin content, polishing and chemical antiquing.
A clear, high-quality glass. Please don’t confuse this with lead crystal, which is a material consisting of 24% or more lead monoxide. The body is hand-cut, hand engraved and/or patterned by the mold. They are case hardened, usually are mouth-blown and often feature transparent coloring on the exterior or the interior of the body.
The least expensive of all popular materials. Unlike the procedure for making stoneware, pewter, and crystal steins, glass bodies and handles are formed in one mold. Also, the lids are often attached by machine. The bodies are usually transfer-decorated and the only hand work involved usually is the application of a decoration.
Ceramic steins fall into one of five categories according to the quality of the ceramic mass, the raw materials, the firing temperature, the color, and density of the mass.
(German-Irdenware, Topferware) – A colored mass that is porous (absorbs liquid) until is is glazed. It is fired at a temperature around 1,000°C.
(German-Keramik) – Slightly porous, light-colored ware, usually fired at about 1,050° – 1,080°C. It must be glazed to make it impermeable.
(German-Steingut/Feinsteingut) – White earthenware with a lead glaze. Contains Kaolin (a fine white clay). It is fired twice, once at 1,150° – 1,180°C without a glaze, then decorated, glazed and fired again around 900° – 1,000°C.
- Stoneware (how a Stoneware stein is decorated)
(German-Steinzeug) – Hard material, fired in high temperature, kilns generally around 1,200° – 1,400°C. At this temperature, stoneware vitrifies (becomes glass like). The resulting product is less than 2% porous, therefore, glaze is not mandatory for a stoneware stein. When glaze is used, it must be of special quality to withstand the high kiln temperature.
(German-Porzellan) – True porcelain, known as hard paste, is made of Kaolin (white clay) and Petuntse (pulverized granite). When fired at a temperature of 1,300° – 1,400°C, these ingredients produce a white, more or less translucent, glass like material.
Since steins are mostly products of Germany, Metric Volume has been and still is the common method of sizing steins. One metric litre equals 33.8 ounces.
The four most popular sizes of steins are:
- 1/4 Litre 0.25 8.5 ounces
- 1/2 Litre 0.50 16.9 ounces
- 3/4 Litre 0.75 25.4 ounces
- 1 Litre 1.00 33.8 ounces
The half-liter size is by far the most popular. Also, the volumes you see listed above are actually minimum capacity. In many cases a quarter-liter stein holds more than a quarter liter and a half-liter stein holds more than a half-liter, etc.
Stoneware Stein Decorations
In general, the body of a stoneware stein is decorated by using one, two or three different techniques – raised-relief decoration, incised decoration, or transfer decoration.
- Raised Relief
Of the three, raised-relief is by far the most popular. Also, known as bas-relief, this technique refers to a three-dimensional, highly detailed subject area that is “raised” above the background area of a stein.
- Incised decoration.
Incised decoration is also known as etched decoration, is equally authentic and attractive, yet not nearly as well known. The primary reason is that it is a more complex and expensive technique. The subject outline of the incised stein is actually etched into the body, thus creating the design.
- Transfer decoration
Transfer, or decal decoration is normally the least expensive decoration. Nevertheless, modern technology now allows us to reproduce the finest, details of portraits, paintings, and photography, thereby creating very attractive and reasonably priced steins.
The original purpose of the stein lid, as well as the body itself, is far from glamorous. Since the very first steins were simple drinking vessels, the primary reason for the lid was functional – a common=sense precaution to keep insects and other contaminants away from the aromatic liquid. In addition to this, early functions of lids were to help keep the liquid at a constant temperature as well as to prevent spillage. Lids, even in early days, provided an attractive finishing touch.
Today, the “finishing touch” aspect is by far the most important reason for the lid. In many cases, the lid is the most important feature of the stein. Lids have a tremendous effect on price as well, sometimes more than doubling the cost of a stein. Hundreds of different lids are currently available – however, the vast majority of them can be categorized into the following groups: conical, flat, ornamental, inlay/figurine, figurine and stoneware.
This is the “cone” or “steeple” shaped lid. It is the most common and least expensive type of lid. Today, most conical lids are entirely made of pewter and machine made. However, they can also be made from a white base metal. The surface is then plated with a nickel or similar alloy to create a shiny finish, or a pewter or pewter-like alloy to create a dark antique finish.
Flat lids, also known as semi-flat lids, are normally made of pewter. Although not entirely flat, the top surface does lend itself well to engraving.
Ornamental lids are always pewter. They feature superior detail, require special hand work, and are presently the most popular lids for limited edition steins. They generally have a glorified conical shape, complete with top finial. Recently, the stein factories have been introducing very interesting ornamental pewter lids.
A very attractive lid, virtually always consisting of a pewter rim, a pewter flange (or lip), and a stoneware figurine or ornament inlaid in the center.
“Top of the line” lid in which a figurine, most often made of pewter, is mounted on an ornamental pewter lid.
Just as the name implies, the top is made of the same material as the body. A pewter or metal alloy hinge, strap, tang, shank, support and thumb lift are also used.