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A Guide to Traditional Beer Tankards

Beer tankards and goblets made from leather were popular throughout history. Picture of beer tankards and goblets.

A Guide to Traditional Beer Tankards

People have taken great pride in their beer and wine drinking vessels since the dawn of humanity. Wherever there is thirst, there are drinking vessels; and history has shown itself to be quite thirsty.

Drinking vessels throughout history came in all shapes and sizes and were made from a variety of materials.

A subset of beer and ale vessels that were incredibly popular were jacks, tankards, and bombards. These cups were often made from leather, which gave them a unique traditional appearance.

Drinking vessels made of leather have been in use since early medieval times and continue to be produced today.

How They’re Made

The full grained leather used in these drinking vessels is hand stitched and then worked into the shape of a container while it is wet. It then undergoes an air-drying process that hardens the leather until it is stiff and solid enough to maintain a rigid shape.

The term for stiff leather of this variety was “jack”, and the vessels made from such leather were called “jacks”.

Historically, these vessels were treated internally with black birch tree sap to form a waterproof lining. Some of this black sap was also applied to the outside of the container, which led to some of these early medieval leather vessels being referred to as “black jacks”.

Some modern beer tankards and wine goblets made from leather are lined with Brewer’s pitch, beeswax, or resin for waterproofing. Hidebound use a modern resin which is fully certified for use with alcohol and which mirrors the original tree resin used.

This treatment method proved to be quite popular, and leather became the go-to material for making drinking vessels. It’s not difficult to see why.

Why Were Leather Drinking Vessels So Popular?

Drinking vessels made of leather were easy to transport, didn’t shatter when dropped, and held your favourite ale securely during every toast or brawl people partook in.

They were used in bars, carried by soldiers, merchants, and travellers. Anyone who was anybody had use for a leather drinking vessel.

What Types of Leather Drinking Vessels Are There?

Leather drinking vessels came in several shapes depending on the historical period they were used in. Four of the most common types were: 


The jack is an early medieval vessel made from a continuous piece of leather. It featured a sturdy handle, and a base which was slightly wider than the rim. It was a popular design that was used throughout many British historical periods for drinking beer, ale, and cider.  It was expensive to make Jacks this way, so they were finally changed to a plain cylinder with a separate handle attached.  Hidebound make both shapes being perfect for the drinking of beer, ale and cider.


A conical shaped vessel from English Tudor times, the tankard was praised for its stability, as their base was wider than their rim. This was the shape of the drinking vessel found within the wreck of the Mary Rose, the Henry VIII flag ship which sank during battle off the south coast of England in 1545. It is equally ideal for the drinking of beer, ale and cider.


Goblets consist of moulded and hardened leather that was mounted on a sturdy birch wood base. It was used during the Charles II Renaissance period for drinking wine, cider, or spirits.


A large leather jug that could hold up to four pints, a bombard was originally used to carry ale from the cellar to the dining table. It can be used to refill individual jacks or tankards at social gatherings, or as a purely decorative item.

Hidebound offer jacks and tankards in both full pint and half pint sizes. They also sell leather goblets that able to hold a third of a pint.

How Can They Be Used?

Leather drinking vessels can be used in most of the same situations you would use a regular glass or a mug in. They’re great for holding cold or room-temperature liquids, such as your favourite beer or ale or wine. The lining holds up well to cold liquids that come in contact with it.
These drinking vessels should not be used with hot liquids, as the heat could damage their outer leather surfaces.

These vessels can be washed easily using cold water on the inside. The outer leather can be cleaned with a damp cloth. You can keep the outer leather surfaces looking shiny and fresh with the occasional application of soft leather balm.

Now we’re not saying you should replace every drinking cup in your home with a leather vessel, but they do provide an interesting and pleasant alternative from which to enjoy your favourite drink. Check out some great designs available for purchase at Hidebound Ltd.