Modern beer is typically served in glassware, and the reasons for the various styles are addressed in What glasses are meant for which beers and why?

I have some alternative vessels at home, including a pewter tankard. The problem I have with drinking from it is that the pewter has a slight tang which you notice on your lips and the tip of your tongue. Depending on the the style of beer, this can either enhance or detract from the taste. (Personally, I've noticed that hefeweizen benefits from the slight acidic tinge, while some Lagers are really undrinkable from it.)

Are there any styles of beer for which it's actually advantageous to drink from something other than glassware, like pewter? Say, for example, they've been brewed specifically to pair well with the material of the vessel.

Alternatively, should I even be drinking from this kind of vessel at all? While it's documented that pewter and other materials were used historically to make tankards, should I even be bothering today or is it just a gimmick?

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    I'd be equally interested in knowing if the lead in the pewter posed any sort of risk. I avoided pewter because someone told me that they did, would be spiffy if an answer addressed that too :) – Tim Post Jan 27 '14 at 16:24
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    "Pewter is now widely lead-free." Digging further into it, it appears that "lead-free" means having no more than 0.05% (500ppm) lead, as required by FDA regulation 4-101.13. Unrelated comment: I think the pores in pewter mugs also have something to do with the taste, though I'm not sure. Whoever answers this question—feel free to incorporate any of this into the answer (without attribution); I'll delete this comment. – Andrew Cheong Jan 27 '14 at 18:55
  • So, who's putting bounty on it? lol. This would be the first website to answer it as far as I could see :) – darwhen Jan 28 '14 at 3:55
up vote 15 down vote accepted

To be honest, I think drinking carbonated (with CO2 at least) beer from pewter is asking for trouble if you do it regularly. The tang you feel is dissolved metal and a component of that, depending on the pewter, may be lead (or could be copper, tin, bismuth, antimony, etc). A major factor in that is acidity, and both hops and carbonation contribute.

Acidic solutions react with metals to produce hydrogen gas and dissolved metal salts. So carbonic acid from carbonated beer will react with the tin to produce hydrogen and tin carbonate, and the same basic process with other metals. The specific metal that reacts will depend on the pewter.

There are some ways around this. You could, for example, coat the inside of the vessel with bees wax. This can then be washed by hand with hot tap water and soap (and is a common method in making drinking horns). This has the pro/con (depending on your taste) of imparting a slight honey taste to everything you drink out of the vessel.

  • Ah, you beat me to it! I was hoping to get some data on the relative degrees of corrosion for various metals first. Very nicely done. – darwhen Jan 28 '14 at 21:28
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    Relative degrees of corrosion of metals is a complicated topic and I decided to skip it for now. You also have the possibility, depending on if anything from another metal makes contact with the pewter in the liquid you could get electrolytic corrosion as well. In the end, I decided to skip all that, but some interesting experiments could be done regarding how to make beer-pewter batteries and what to use for the other electrode ;-) – Chris Travers Jan 29 '14 at 13:25
  • Agreed, it's probably well outside the scope of what was needed to answer the original question. I think I'm revealing my bias toward physical and chemical detail when answering questions. I may post another question related to beer's chemical properties for more discussion on this. – darwhen Jan 30 '14 at 1:02

There really isn't any reason why a modern pewter tankard would be harmful to drink from. Lead has been illegal in pewter drinkware in the USA and western europe (at least) for decades now. The FDA is widely considered VERY risk-averse and they are fine with pewter when it doesn't contain lead greater than a trace amount (see FDA regulation 4-101.13(B)).

The other metals in pewter - mostly tin, with some copper and (usually) antimony - are very unlikely to cause a problem because they won't be absorbed into the beer in any material quantity, and because they are generally not harmful if they were absorbed (see this page about pewter tankards). Remember tin's role as a coating for the inside of food containers?

NOTE: older pewter may well contain lead, and this is soluble in beer, and this is not safe. The lead dissolving is what causes 'pitting' on the inside of older pewter tankards.

As to whether it's more enjoyable to drink out of glass or pewter, really comes down to personal taste. I enjoy both.

You're right to have identified a peculiar flavor coming from pewter. There are two parts to this: the leaching of the metals as mentioned by @Chris as well as the oxidation of lipids in your mouth. In my opinion neither of these is particularly pleasant.

That being said, when pewter was phased out in favor of glass, there were many who held on to their pewter tankards for drinking porter. Ron Pattinson shares an anecdote about an Irish MP who would hide his pewter mug under the table to avoid the critical eye of others in the pub. Today you might get a similar reaction from craft beer drinkers appalled at your treatment of the beer.

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