Beer! For many men, this word is right up there in the top five things they want to hear throughout the day — and probably the only one that doesn’t involve their pecker.
One glass and you’re already smarter, better looking and more athletic. Two to three, your skill in pool and darts dramatically increase — you now also know how to dance. Six glasses — you’re in deep now — luckily, beer miraculously bestows upon you the wisdom of a philosopher, you are easily the most interesting person in the room. Ten plus glasses — isn’t it about time you messaged your ex? Twenty — the Dalai Barman has anointed you the Second Coming of Drunken Jesus, in your holy benevolence you expunge all evil from your body; the light compels a burrito you ate earlier to runneth from your stomach, straight into a gutter outside the bar.
Beer truly is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, the next day you will only remember part of this strange and wonderful journey. You will have to repeat the process again next weekend and the one after and the one — you get the point.
Beer is the result of fermented cereal sugars. Back before we were clinking glasses and stumbling home, wild airborne yeasts caused grain stored by ancient tribes to spontaneously ferment, creating alcohol as a by-product. When consumed by one of our more adventurous ancient ancestors, this bizarre tasting concoction resulted in the first ever keg party — as well as the first hangover. While pinpointing the exact moment in time is nearly impossible, we know that beer has been part of human civilisation for almost as long as civilisation has been a thing. It probably gave civilisation a purpose too — let’s build a mighty wall around this valley and farm these crops — why? So we can get shitfaced, of course!
Needless to say, the trend quickly took off, with evidence of brewing found in Iran, Egypt and throughout Neolithic Europe. Ancient beer was only usually created and sold domestically, making homebrew the standard practice. Production changed in the 14th and 15th century in Europe when pubs and monasteries started to produce beer on a larger scale for mass consumption.
When the industrial age began, humans experienced a level of production never before seen by any civilisation on Earth. Along with textiles and automotive engineering, brewing also saw an unprecedented boon. Backed by developments in steam engine technology and the introduction of the hydrometer and the thermometer, brewers were able to produce enough beer to get whole countries completely trashed — or approximately just enough beer to get John Belushi tipsy.
It was during the industrial revolution, in 1814, that one of the greatest beer related tragedies (of which we’re sure there are many other contenders) occurred — the “Great London Beer Flood”.
As we all know, there is nothing sadder than tipping over a full beer. If it’s your own, it may be the signal to go home, if it’s someone else’s — let’s just hope you have enough change to replace it. Now, imagine compounding this accident by, say, 4 million. Now you're starting to get a grasp of what it was like for the brewery that caused the Great London Beer Flood.
Messrs. Henry Meux and Co. was founded early in the reign of King George III and had become renowned for its porter, of which it produced over 100 thousand litres per year. When a storehouse clerk, George Crick, inspected one of the three-storey wooden vats that held the honey-brown nectar, he noticed a 700-pound girdle had broken and fallen off from the bottom of the container. Apparently, not an uncommon occurrence, he was told not to worry about it. In fact, Crick’s boss assured him “No harm whatever would ensue” from the broken hoop. Moments later, the beer vat exploded.
The explosion triggered a chain reaction with adjoining vats resulting in nearly 1.5 million litres of beer to come cascading down from the brewery into the nearby (mostly impoverished) Irish community. We know what you’re thinking — a beer flood in an Irish neighbourhood — best day of their lives, right? Unfortunately, as whimsical as the story sounds, it was devastating for the residents. Bricks and mortar rained down on the streets, killing one 14-year-old girl instantly. In the cellar of a nearby dwelling, a family holding a wake for their recently deceased 2-year old boy was crushed when their house collapsed under the tidal wave of beer. Eight women and children in total lost their lives in a disaster that, according to the London’s Morning Post, was “Equal to that which fire or earthquake may be supposed to occasion.”
The brewery didn’t pay any damages to the victims’ family for the mishap after a jury rendered its verdict that the incident had been an “Act of God”.
Which brings to mind an old Ben Franklin quote — “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy". As long as it's in a glass.