The traditional German beer stein traces its roots to sanitary laws resulting from the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century. Today it is both an art form and a useful beverage container and is an iconic part of German culture.
The name, stein
The name stein is a shortening of the word Steinzeugkrug.
The origin of use
Many German principalities enacted laws requiring food and beverages containers be covered to keep away plague-carrying flies.
The late medieval pewter making guilds dominated the manufacture of lids for beer steins.
Beer steins are made from a variety of crockery materials as well as glass and some all-metal types.
Steins vs mugs
The lid, usually with a hinge, is the chief distinction between a stein and a mug.
Military units, municipalities, brewing companies and special events coordinators often make limited run specialty steins with pictures and inscriptions on the mug as well as unique figures on the lid as commemorative items.