Since the first days of beer’s long and glorious history, there have been customs and traditions surrounding its consumption. Beer has been the center of religious rituals, the main libation consumed when an opponent lands a ping-pong ball in your cup, and a feature of a lot of interesting practices in between.
The poem Epic of Gilgamesh offers an account of how beer has been a part of religious tradition since the dawn of civilization. The tale is one of the first-known stories of how society and beer entwine with religion. In it, the hero, wild man Enkidu, lives among the animals until a priestess is sent to lie with him. For seven days and six nights they do the wild thing; afterwards the priestess feeds him bread and gives him beer to drink. After he eats and has his fill of beer, the priestess declares him civilized, saying, “Thou art wise, Enkidu, like unto a god!” The story is essentially an allegory for how beer and good lovin’ tamed wild man and ushered in civilization.
In another ancient story—Homer’s The Iliad—Hector’s mother starts a tradition by telling her son, “Pour a libation to Zeus.” Over the years this turned into the custom of toasting and pouring a beer or other drink out to honor those who cannot be there, whether they be merely absent or have passed on.
On the subject of toasting, don’t expect a Hungarian to clink glasses. The custom was abolished after they lost the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 to the Austrians who were said to touch glasses to celebrate their victory. Subsequently, the Hungarian people swore not to clink glasses for 150 years. Though that deadline has passed, it’s still considered impolite.
Germans have a tradition of drinking beer from a large glass boot; shouts of “Das boot!” are common at many drinking halls and bier gartens. Legend has it that a Prussian general promised to drink beer from his boot if his soldiers were successful in battle. When the troops won handily, the general called upon a glass blower to craft a boot to celebrate.
South of the equator in Peru, beer drinking is a participatory social event. Peruvians friends gather in a circle around a table with a shot glass on it. The first person in the circle shouts to buy a bottle of beer then fills the shot glass. They pass the bottle to the next person in the circle, drink their shot and pour any remaining froth on the ground, then put the shot glass back on the table. The ritual continues until the bottle is empty.
For hearty drinkers, the Czech Republic’s custom of refilling your glass whenever it’s empty will certainly test your limits. Bartenders at Czech bars will continue to fill your glass until you either fall over drunk or place a coaster on top of it.
Drinking customs and traditions are woven into the very fabric of civilization. These are just a small sampling of how beer is enjoyed around the world. Why not start your own tradition next time you enjoy a cold one?