drinking disasters, and the holidays they inspire

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Drinking, toasting, hosting, maybe doing a little wine-related boasting, all come into play during the holidays. I mean that stretch from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day when all the world takes time to party. But we’re not there yet – Thanksgiving is still five weeks away. So what we need is... more holidays!

A brief story that ran today on the drinks business website sparked my thinking on this important, and sadly neglected, topic. The headline reads “On This Day... the London Beer Flood” Who can resist a headline like that? The gist of the story is this… on October 17th, 1814, the Meux and Company Brewery suffered a tragic blow, when one of its huge vats of beer – 3550 barrels worth of porter – blew apart at the seams and sent 323,000 gallons (571 tons!) of beer sloshing through the streets of London.

While not quite the equal of the legendary Missoula floods that carved out eastern Washington, this was apparently a decent-sized tsunami, 15 feet in height. It took out two homes and damaged a neighborhood pub. Happily, there were few fatalities.

A far more complete account of the incident may be found on Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile (and what a marvelous word that is!).

It’s a long read, but quite fascinating, especially the parts about the gargantuan vats (this was not the largest by far) that were used back in the day for brewing. OK, not exactly holiday material here, but it got me searching for other potential candidates. Which turned up this intriguing post that appeared last fall, in support of Douglas Jefferson Day. DJ Day, it notes, was inaugurated on October 6th, 2012, on behalf of the Douglas Jefferson Day Foundation. It harks back to the autumn of 1804, when the Man himself, who may or may not have been a distant relative of the President, walked into a local tavern and bought rounds for one and all. Probably hard cider, which was often the beverage of choice in those days.

This one too has a bit of a sad ending, in that Jefferson, upon leaving the pub, was crushed to death under the wheels of a vegetable cart. More details are available here.

Apparently, the holiday was first celebrated in 1805, on the first Saturday of October. It continued to be observed (all this in Washington, D.C.) for another nine years, until the city was burned down in 1814. Was the revival a success? I cannot find any indication that DJ Day was observed this month. Perhaps the sour mood that has prevailed during the government shutdown made it impossible to follow the simple instructions, which consist of the following three rules:

• Douglas Jefferson Day must be celebrated in a Public House of the District of Columbia, in the company of good friends

• A gift must be given to a friend. One must not have exchanged money for the gift, and it must be “no larger than a baker’s loaf.”

• In the spirit of Douglas Jefferson Day, you must buy a drink for a stranger.

Let’s hope it makes a comeback in 2014, which, you may have noted, will also be the 200th anniversary of the great London beer flood.

1 comment:

JJ Williams said...

When my wife and I visited London, a barkeep shared some local lore that on certain streets, at certain times of the year, you can still smell beer from the "beer flood."

Like Paul Harvey used to say, now we know the rest of the story!

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