We love questions like this one because they’re endlessly debatable. We often wonder if people imagine that a definitive tome of alcohol trivia and lore exists, and that in the 5th century, a Saxon peasant named Aldwyn was the first to tap his glass upon a rough-hewn bar to ward off evil spirits. And so it was written, and thus it became truth. But seriously, if that book does exist, can we borrow it? We’ve got some questions we’d like answered.
Still, there are many theories as to why it began, and there are very good reasons as to why people still practice the custom. As to who or why anyone did it first? We have no idea, and honestly, It’s unlikely that anyone knows the actual answer. The important thing now is that it’s a tradition that has different, equally valid sentiment to the folks who practice the custom.
Here are some varying ideas as to the meaning behind this practice—presented in no particular order of likely origin:
Some people tap their glass on the bar as a quiet tribute to absent friends and comrades.
In Ireland, it was believed that liquor contained spirits that might be harmful if consumed, and tapping the glass dispelled those spirits.
In drinking contests, tapping your beer could cause the foam to settle, making it easier to finish quickly. Likewise, tapping your glass or mug on the bar signified when you started a new glass.
Fraternity members frequently claim that it’s an old Greek tradition.
Others say that it’s a mark of respect to the bartender.
Some believe that you cheers to the future, but a tap on the bar acknowledges the past.
Nearly everyone agrees that if you’ve worked in the industry, you’re far more likely to tap your glass on the bar. And while no one knows the reason it began, people have certainly been able to find meaning (sometimes profoundly so) in a custom with a forgotten origin.