Food & Drink

A brief history of German beer boots, and where you can find them

Anyone who’s seen the movie Beerfest remembers “Das Boot”: it’s a giant, boot-shaped drinking vessel that thwarts the efforts of our intrepid American heroes with its daunting size and insurmountable German-ness. Since that movie, the beer boot (or "bierstiefel") has gone on to become a staple prop in the college drinking repertoire, but why? Where did it come from? And where can you get in on this messy tradition?

Well, we decided to dive deep into the history of these, the glorious footwear that Cinderella only wished she left behind. Turns out, its roots go deeper than a 2006 movie by the dude who directed The Dukes of Hazard.

History

There are many theories as to how the bierstiefel came to be a traditional fixture at sick parties. One maintains that it traces its origins back to one of the earliest instances of ritual hazing, and that it’s been going on essentially since the introduction of leather footwear. Soldiers, club members, and other groups would get one member (usually the grossest) to take off their shoe, fill it with beer, and serve it to initiates to instill in them both loyalty and a healthy dose of disgust.

In fact, shoe-shaped pots have been found at ancient excavation sites all over Central Europe, and although we can’t be sure exactly what these babies used to be filled with back in the BC years, we can assume that it was only a matter of time before some lush got ahold of them because their party ran out of terra cotta Solo cups.

With that practice firmly rooted in the consciousnesses of proto-frat boys, it was only a matter of time before some dude with access to glass-blowing technology got wind of it and tried to innovate the ritual. And so it did, probably a couple hundred years ago, legend has it -- a general in Germany reportedly promised his soldiers that, if they were victorious in an upcoming battle, he would drink beer from his boot.

Well, the soldiers won, and the general, not wanting to eat his words (or drink gross foot-sweat beer), had a glass boot made so that things would be a bit more sanitary. After that -- and the collective realization that drinking a large amount of beer out of a giant novelty glass looks badass -- the bierstiefel caught on as a celebratory practice for Germans.

beerfest boot scene
<em>Beerfest</em>

From there, an expansion into Oktoberfest culture was inevitable, which is what introduced beer boots to the rest of the West through beer-based tourism and Broken Lizard films.

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The tradition of “Das Boot” is also closely related to the English “yard of ale”, wherein probably-already-boozed-up show-offs would attempt to drink an entire 3ft-tall glass of beer. Notably, former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke was briefly the world record holder for the fastest consumed yard of ale. He could drink anyone down under the table. We’re sorry.

Actually drinking it

When you’re drinking from the boot itself, the established practice is to pass it around in a large circle of people, each passing the boot from one to the next while taking swigs. It’s important not to set the boot down, and to drink it until it’s finished.

Also, in order to keep yourself from being sprayed in the face by the pocket of beer contained in the toe, it’s important to face the toe of the boot to the left or the right, and to avoid pointing it upwards if you’re in the position of drinking the last of the beer. But, if you saw Beerfest, you knew that already.

The beer boot today

In this day and age, the average German enjoys the occasional bierstiefel at their local biergarten after a particularly glorious handball win, but the average American might not really know where to find one to drink from (or how to play handball).

So, to help you out, here’s a list of some awesome German beer halls that’ll let you get your beer boot on (note: please bring a couple friends, at least). And, truth be told, there are probably just as many bars in America that do this as there are ones in Germany. Some notables include:

Prost (Portland, OR)
Leopold’s (San Francisco, CA)
The Radler (Chicago, IL)
Cafe Berlin (Washington, DC)
Bohemian Biergarten (Boulder, CO)
Essen Haus (Madison, WI)
Suppenküche (San Francisco, CA)
The Heidelberg (Ann Arbor, MI)
Schnitzel Haus (Miami, FL)

And you can also check out this enormous list of New York beer bars that've got 'em.

Adam Lapetina is a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and prefers glass boots to the real things. When drinking, not when walking. Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.