Beer history

The Pasglas

On the internet, one thing leads to another. This time, we ended up, via a Wikipedia wormhole, on the Dutch-language page for ‘Pasglas’.

Here’s what we got from Google Translate, tidied up a bit:

A pasglas is a tall beer glass from the 17th century used for drinking games. The glass gets its name from the passen (stripes) marked around the beer glass with the intention that, during a drinking game, each competitor would try to drink down to the next line… The pasglas is common in paintings of the 17th century in which it can symbolise the temptations of life. The quality of the glass itself was poor and often contain air bubbles; this, and the low appreciation of the glasses, means that few have been preserved.

There are indeed lots of pictures of these peculiar glasses, such as ‘An Allegory of Taste’ by Petrus Staverenus, that was auctioned at Christie’s in 2012 (and from where we nicked the picture):


It looks a bit like a modern-day brewing sample jar, a vase, or maybe a distant relative of a German wheat beer glass.

There’s a lot more information on the website of ALMA, a Dutch project which aims to connect physical objects from history with paintings that depict them. Its essay says: ‘The eight-sided green pass glass is found regularly in archaeological excavations, not only in the Netherlands but also in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and even in the United States.’ It also includes the rules of the drinking game gleaned from a poem inscribed on a glass in Vienna:

The verse makes it clear that the pass glass was used by a group of drinking companions who passed the glass round and everyone must take a swallow from it. The drinker was challenged to go from measure to measure in one gulp and if he missed, then he had to go on to the next measure. 

Sounds like fun, and all very sociable. Someone making these today would clean up at Christmas, wouldn’t they?

The main image up top is a detail from ‘Vrolijk Gezelschap’ by Jan Miense Molenaer, c.1660 – 1668, from the ALMA website.

14 replies on “The Pasglas”

That’s like the earlier English communal drinking vessel with pegs sticking out on the inside showing the measure one was to drink. Source of the phrase about taking someone down a notch or “a peg or two” I dimly recall. [Should be supplying a better evidence with that but heading out the door to work…]

Those marks actually existed in Norwegian communal drinking vessels, too. Either as metal dots or as “steps” in the inside of the bowl. The purpose was indicating the measure to be drunk, so that everyone got the same amount.

Alan: would really appreciate a reference to more information on the English vessels, if you’re able to find one.

It’s definitely possible. Or maybe the Dutch always had enough beer and didn’t need this style of cup to divide up portions. In Norway people generally didn’t have much grain, and therefore didn’t brew very often. In Denmark it was different. So without more evidence it’s not really possible to tell.

The intention was not to test you, but I’ve been looking for a way into literature about beer drinking vessels in other countries. For Norway and Sweden I’m reasonably well covered, but every other country is currently a total blank. If you could come up with even one reference that would open the door to one more country.

The forfeit in a drinking game somebody once explained to me (there weren’t enough enthusiasts to actually get a round going) was to drink a dimple’s worth of beer from a dimple mug (they were all the rage back then).

He certainly doesn’t say that the custom continued into the 1800s – the book was published in 1817, and he says that he has a pegged cup which came into his family “a hundred and fifty years ago”. As for the continuation of customs from before the Conquest to “Shakespeare’s time” (which he does claim), I’d need to see much better evidence than, well, none. Paging Martyn…

Phil: He doesn’t need to say it. We have piles of evidence from Norway. But I’m not going to present it before I can bang it into some kind of shape. Not the next blog post, but the one after that, will be my first tentative attempt at this subject. Sorry to be so secretive, but this subject is so enormous, and so weird, that I need to start off … on the right foot or … I’m not sure how to put it.

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