Toast National Lager Day With These 11 Old-Fashioned Drinking Traditions

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It’s National Lager Day, and while we know you don’t need much of an excuse to celebrate the beloved brew, here are some old-timey traditions to amp up the party. They may hail from yesteryear, but many can be translated into a modern celebration.


While you’re ordering another pint at your favorite haunt, be thankful you can just pick up a beer when you’re thirsty—procuring a beer hasn’t always been that easy. Home brewing is a DIY project that’s literally thousands of years old (no one knows for sure, but beer dates back to at least 3000 BCE), and it was a hobby good enough for America’s forefathers. That’s right—Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington all homebrewed, and Washington even had a brew house on the grounds of Mount Vernon. Samuel Adams—Founding Father, rabble-rouser, and cousin of future president John Adams—was also a maltster; while it’s unclear whether he was a brewer himself, he definitely inherited his family’s malt estate, which sold malted barley to brewers. If beer was good enough for these honchos, it’s good enough for us!


In the early days of beer, it was more than customary for professional brewers to be members of the fairer sex. It was also the law. In ancient Egypt, it was illegal for men to brew or sell beer. In ancient Peru, it wasn’t enough to just be a woman—you had to be a beautiful woman of nobility.


Back in the day, beer wasn’t just an evening treat. It was a round-the-clock beverage. In Colonial Williamsburg, people starting drinking beer the moment they woke up and continued throughout the workday. That might not be so surprising though, considering their predecessor Pilgrims basically stopped at Plymouth Rock because they were running out of beer. A journal from the Mayflower reads, “We could not now take time for further search or consideration; our victuals being much spent especially our Beere.”

Ancient Egyptians drank on the job, too. In fact, the pyramid builders were paid in the stuff—about a gallon a day. In modern times, you’ll need to take the day off before you bend an elbow, but at least you don’t have to build any pyramids.


The only thing more appropriate than raising a glass on National Lager Day is hoisting a stein. The ceramic beer stein dates back to roughly the early 16th century in Germany (where else?). Back then, they were decorated with verses, illustrations, or bits of personalized information, often specific to where the stein was made. One piece from the era depicts a drinking contest with a champion standing above the losers, his cup raised in the air. It’s engraved with the message “Moderation is desirable, but you live better and more fully without it.”

There’s also speculation that beer lifting originated with knights, who needed to wield a stein as well as they could a sword. This National Lager Day, fill up a stein, line up some competitors, and hold the cup straight out in front of you. The drinker who can keep his arm out the longest, wins. (It’s not an official rule, but we suggest he/she also get their tab covered for the night.) Samuel Adams continues this tradition today; they’ve hosted an annual stein hoisting competition since 2011.


Lager Day is a celebration, but in 20th century Hungary, banging glasses was a big no-no. The reason? When Austria stopped the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, the Austrian army supposedly celebrated by bringing glasses together. Bitter Hungarians pledged not to clink drinks for another 150 years, and it’s actually still considered impolite to this day. Instead, follow the Hungarians’ lead and drink from a shoe. Grooms in Hungary celebrate nuptials by sipping a toast from the bride’s wedding slipper. And speaking of that…


You’ve probably sipped (maybe a little too much) beer from a giant glass boot before without ever knowing the story behind the Bierstiefel. The history’s a bit murky, but the common belief is that a Prussian general started it all when he promised his troops that he’d drink from his boot if they were successful in battle. After their victory, he had a glass version made for obvious reasons.

Other versions of the story say that German soldiers in World War I would pass around their actual boots filled with beer, at first for necessity, but then as a good luck charm. It’s customary to pass the beer boot around with your fellow drinkers and continue drinking and passing until the beer is gone, making sure to never set it down until it’s empty. If you’re not a sharer, though, we understand.


The act of toasting goes back all the way to 450 CE at a feast to honor British King Vortigern. Anglo-Saxon leader Hengist offered a goblet of wine to Vortigern and said, “Louerd King, waes hael!”—“Good health!” before they both drank. Toasting was once quite literal, as a piece of spiced or burnt toast was plopped in a cup of wine as a snack or flavor enhancer. And it didn’t used to be just some polite gesture—toasting was a key part of the revelry. People would raise their glasses to every person in sight as an excuse to both compete and to take a sip.


It’s the holiday season, which means it's the perfect time of year to use a wassailing—the name comes from Old Norse ves heil (“be well/healthy”)—bowl, a large bowl filled with spiced wine that would be passed around the table for each person to take a sip. Or you could take a cue from King Edward II, who supposedly started the tradition of the “loving cup.” For this, a two-handled container is passed around, with three people standing up at a time to partake. One person passes, one drinks, and one protects the momentarily vulnerable drinker. (Apparently poor Edward’s stepmother stabbed him just as he was in the midst of a sip.) Then there were the Vikings, who predictably loved giant drinking vessels. They shared large bowls of heated beer and drank from dippers.


This one has been a deliberate and not-so-deliberate tradition for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, one of the many appeals of beer was that it was safer to drink than water (which didn’t have the benefit of boiling and alcohol to help make it more sanitary).


At medieval shindigs, round-bottomed glasses meant you had to finish your drink before you could set it down. Later, during the 18th century, the future King George IV actually broke the stems off wine glasses to keep the tradition going.


Circling back around to the toasts, the idea of pouring one out for those who aren’t present has its roots in ancient times and even made its way into Homer’s The Iliad, in which Hector’s mother tells him to “pour a libation to Zeus.” The tradition morphed from honoring the gods to toasting the dead to even saluting companions, so, pour one out this National Lager Day in honor of whomever you please, but please, don’t waste too much.

Whether you jump at one of these time-honored traditions or decide to start one of your own, National Lager Day is the perfect reason to get together with friends to raise a glass of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Learn more at