Nothing rallies a crowd like a boot chug. The scene is familiar (depending on what circles you run in): Four people line up with one-liter glass boots filled to the brim with German beer. The final person, the anchor, has a two-liter glass boot, or “Das Boot.” As soon as the beer goes down, the following person starts on the boot in front of them, relay style.
There you go: German boot-chug tradition. At least, that’s if “Beerfest” and every over-excited college fraternity man is to be believed. But you get the point.
Technically, “Das Boot” translates to “The Boat,” not “The Boot.” It probably didn’t start with the Germans, either. Long before before the bierstiefel (the boot-shaped German glass) and “Beerfest,” there were English hunters chugging out of boots.
Both Alpine Village in Torrence, California, and the online retailer Beersteins And Mugs date the origin of the glass boot to English hunting and horse riding clubs in the 1800s. Pint-sized mugs shaped like fancy riding boots with spurs and straps were offered up to wealthy Englishmen, because rich people love to use everyday things in extravagant ways. By the 1870s, though, the English gentry got tired of boot drinking and found other ways to show their alcoholic dominance. Like with the yard of ale, for example.
Thankfully, drinking out of a boot wasn’t forgotten. It found a new, more appropriate home in mid-1800s Prussia, which is now a part of Germany. And when Germans do it, they do it big. They lost the riding spur and the boot strap and increased the size to a liter, which is a little more than double the English pint version. They also turned the drinking boot into a hazing ritual.
One story by Philly Beer Scene places the credit for the German drinking boot to an unnamed Prussian general in an unnamed war. He promised his soldiers that if they won the upcoming battle, then he would drink beer out of his boot. Don’t judge. We all get motivation in different ways. His troops lived to tell the tale but the general skimped on his promise by getting a glass boot custom-made. Whoever he was, he was no Cinderella, and he definitely wasn’t wearing any glass boots on an everyday basis. It was a lot better to drink out of than his own smelly leather boot, though.
The story passed down and picked up steam. During World War I, German soldiers were said to pass around a leather boot filled with beer before battle for good luck. They would flick the boot before and after taking a drink and passing the bootie to the left hand side. If that sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the time-honored American tradition of slapping a bag of wine, drinking from the spout and then passing it on. Slapping the bag hasn’t brought anyone luck (as far as we know), and flicking the boot obviously didn’t work for the Germans, either.
Alpine Village offers a different — less pleasant — version of how the beer boot got started. In its story, the boot was a straight hazing ritual for new troops. Newbies would have to crush beer from the literal boot of a fellow soldier, and generals would let their subjects drink from the general’s boot if they won a battle. Alpine Village does note, however, that “there is no record of that promise ever actually being fulfilled.”
Regardless of how it started, American soldiers brought back the beer boot after World War II. Once America was cool with Germany again, it did what any self-respecting capitalist country would do and sold the beer-boot culture as novelty.
Then Beerfest happened in 2006 and the beer-boot cult became mainstream. Crowds from fraternity basements to faux-German bars can be heard shouting “Das Boot” to this day.
Here’s how to join in on the fun.
Split a group of at least eight people into equal teams. Each person gets a cup of beer except for the last person, the anchor, who gets a boot. The first person on each team cheers the other, then chugs the beer and puts the empty cup face down on the table. The next person can start as soon as the person before him puts his cup down, and the first side to completely finish wins.
The Passing Of The Boot
A group of three or more people circles up around a table with one large boot filled with beer. The first person picks up the beer and takes a drink, then passes it clockwise around the table.
The person must drink again if any of the following happens:
1. Take a drink with the toe of the boot pointing away from you.
2. Forget to flick the boot before passing it.
3. Splash yourself while drinking.
4. Touch the table with the boot.
If you finish the boot, then the person who passed it to you buys the next round.
(h/t Hessen Haus in Des Moines, Iowa)