The coaster, your beer's companion at the pub, has a surprisingly interesting history! Supposedly, the term “coaster” (known as a beermat in the UK) originates from those late-night parties when the servants had long gone to bed. The wine was still being passed around the table, but rather than handing the bottles over, they were placed into shallow silver vessels with feet that would 'coast' across the table to waiting thirsty hands.
Not only do these nifty devices soak up condensation from your glistening Pilsner, they are also the same design and material as they were over 120 years ago! The coaster material is a wood-pulp that absorbs liquids and also maintains its rigid structure that was patented in 1892 by Robert Sputh in Dresden, Germany. Coasters were originally made of fabric and placed on top of your beer to keep those beer-thirsty bugs away, but were quickly adapted to sit under the beer to soak up spills. In Germany, coasters signal to your server you're in need of another round when placed atop your empty vessel and some coasters are used as your tab with tally marks for each beer consumed.
Once these clever cardboard beermats went mainstream, it didn't take long for breweries and taverns to advertise to their loyal imbibers. Vintage coasters (as well as modern ones) are now collector's items with artistic designs, beer advertisements, and even public service announcements. There's even a name for this craze. "Tegestology" is the collecting of beer coasters, and there is even a dedicated group of tegestologists in Britain who formed the British Beermat Collectors Society. I was delighted to see that McFleshman's appeared on the official registry of America's club Beercoast.com Collectors page under Wisconsin.
At McFleshman's, we pay homage to the coaster in a slightly different way. Our Tap Room coasters help us hear your thoughts on our beer by linking you to our beer surveys. We don't have a Mug Club, where you drink your beer from a lovely mug, because we take glassware very seriously and your pint will taste different if not served in its appropriate glass style. (See previous blog post about glassware). Instead, we have a Pub Club where you get a fancy wood coaster with our logo laser-etched on one side and a design of your choosing on the other! You also get discounts, merchandise, and even VIP seating for Mile of Music to name a few of the perks. (Ask our beertedners for details!) But all of this to say, that what started out as a neat non-mug promotion, actually has deep historical roots in the history of beer! Just think! As you tap the coaster on the table or draw a sketch over a pint to win an argument with a friend, beer fans a century ago were doing the exact same thing!
So the next time you're in the taproom, and your fresh gorgeous beer is placed atop its wood-pulp throne, listen closely for the sound of generations of beer lovers applauding the legacy that is the beer coaster – going strong for 120 years!
Some delightful resources!
Nelson, Max. (2008). The History of the Wood-Pulp Beer Coaster. American Breweriana Journal, Museum Commemorative Edition, 82-83.