‘I’m interested in the history of the branded beer glass in pubs. Any idea when it came about, who started it and why?’ Mark Dredge
Oof. This turned out to be too big a question for us. Mark originally asked back in December and we’ve been trying, on and off, with some effort, to find a definitive answer since then.
We didn’t get one.
In the hope that someone out there knows, or might fancy doing some research themselves, here’s what we have learned.
In his monograph Pub Beer Mugs and Glasses (2007) Hugh Rock includes photographs of a vast range of antique British beer drinking vessels. There are several late Victorian earthenware mugs bearing the names of pubs (to help prevent theft, presumably); and a couple of glasses from around 1890 etched with what appear to be beer or brewery names. But the earliest examples of what we would recognise as mass-produced branded glassware, with colour logos, date from as late as the 1960s.
Print advertisements from the 1950s, even for heavily marketed national brands, show them in plain glasses – surely if there were printed glasses with logos available, they’d have used them for this, if not actually in the pub?
Andrew Campbell’s 1956 The Book of Beer has a very substantial section on beer glasses but he makes no mention of logo-branded glassware.
We did find a 1960 ad for SKOL lager featuring a glass with a logo, though, and this 1966 advertisement is the earliest we’ve found from Watney’s featuring a branded glass, on the far left:
So we reckon it’s safe to say that, even if there were odd examples earlier in the century, this practice really got going under the rule of the Big Six (or Seven) – Guinness, Watney’s, Whitbread et al – in the 1960s when the marketing of certain bottled and keg beers really stepped up, and they attempted to distinguish otherwise very similar products using custom-designed glassware. (See also: pump-clips.)
2. The USA
But what about the US? There, examples of branded glassware can be found in advertisements for big brands much earlier, e.g. this for Budweiser from 1937:
And US magazine Collector’s Weekly suggests that, actually, the practice may have taken off even before that:
During the 1880s, as breweries expanded and pasteurization allowed them to send products longer distances, beer-glass advertising became popular. A few of these early advertising glasses used color-embossed logos, but most relied on an acid-etching silkscreen process… Once alcohol was legalized again in the 1930s, glassware designed for beer was often colorfully painted with a brewery’s name and company slogan, such as “Walter’s Beer tastes better” or “Arrow 77: It Hits the Spot.”
We emailed the American National Association of Breweriana Advertising to see if anyone there might have more definitive information. George Baley put the question to the Association’s board whose responses included the following from Donald Roussin:
I do not know who was first but having gone thru every issue of American Brewer and Western Brewer on file in the Anheuser-Busch corporate library (the latter of which goes back to the early 1870s) I don’t remember seeing a trade ad for glasses until the late 1870s… The earliest glass I know about is from Anheuser-Busch. It is a goblet style, and is simply embossed with ‘Anheuser-Busch’. This glass is generally dated in collector circles as being produced in the 1876–1880 period.
3. Continental Europe
Which left us with another question: might American brewers of German origin have got the idea from the Old Country?
Here, unfortunately, we drew almost a complete blank. Emails weren’t answered, collectors’ websites are generally information-light, language barriers notwithstanding. Most of the collections of decorated beer glasses we could find online, however, date the earliest examples of what we would recognise as branded glassware to around 1900. This Austrian beer glass collector’s website says (our very loose translation):
Beer glasses were first used as an advertising medium from the turn of the century. Until then, beer was not transported far and was drunk only within the close vicinity of the brewery. Only when beer began to be stored and transported did breweries begin applying branding to distinguish one beer from another.
4. Provisional Conclusions
Branded beer glasses are probably an American invention, and probably date back to the 1870s and, until someone convinces us otherwise, we’re giving Anheuser-Busch the credit.
Now prove us wrong.