Bar Tending & Beerspectives
by Matt Martinkovic
Brewsearch & Development -
Nik's Wunderbar - Whitehouse Station NJ
I love everything about beer, including its history, even when it's not pleasant.  As such I have
to apologize for not alerting you to an anniversary last month of a unique and sad beer
event.  On October 17, 1814, over a quarter million gallons of beer were unleashed onto
London's streets. The 15-foot tall tidal wave of booze crashed into buildings and flooded
cellars, even killing eight especially unfortunate souls. The culprit? A bursting vat.

The epicenter of the London Beer Flood was Horse Shoe Brewery on Tottenham Court
Road, which was brewing porter in huge vats. A metal hoop on one of these vats snapped.
The force unleashed by one bursting vat broke a several others, and pretty soon there
was a flood of porter pouring through the streets.

George Crick, the clerk on duty, gave this account to a local newspaper: "I was on a platform
about 30 feet from the vat when it burst. I heard the crash as it went off, and ran
immediately to the storehouse, where the vat was situated. It caused dreadful devastation
on the premises - it knocked four butts over, and staved several, as the pressure was
so excessive. Between 8 and 9,000 barrels of porter [were] lost."

Unfortunately, the brewery also happened to be right next to the poorly built slums of St.
Giles. The beer flooded into the houses, sweeping away and killing several people in them.
All told, the London Beer Flood claimed eight victims and demolished two buildings.  

After the accident, watchmen charged people a penny or two-pence to see the ruins of the
beer vats, and visitors came in their hundreds to witness the macabre spectacle. But a report
in The Times praised local people’s response to the disaster, noting how the crowd kept quiet
so the cries of trapped victims could be heard.

In fact, it seems like later rumours that people collected the beer in pots and pans were
untrue.  In all the research I've done I could not find a single London newspapers that
reported anyone trying to drink the beer after the flood.  On the contrary, they said the
crowds that gathered were pretty well behaved. Only much later did stories start being told
about riots, people getting drunk and so on: these seem to have been be prompted by what
people thought ought to have happened, rather than what did happen.

An inquest heard that there had been an indication that the vat was unstable earlier
in the afternoon of the 17th, when one of the metal hoops holding it together snapped.
A jury cleared the brewers of any wrongdoing, considering the incident as an
unavoidable act of God. Henry Meux & Co., the owners, received a refund for the excise duty
they had paid to produce the beer they had lost.

Maybe I can tell you a few more of these hidden history of beer tales next time you
visit here at  Nik's Wunderbar. Hope to see you soon!


And don't forget my friends at the  Northside Lounge,
100 Brooks Boulevard, Manville, NJ 08835     908-722-7712
Matt Martinkovic is not only a recognized beer authority but a well known ecological writer whose
work has appeared in the The American Midland Naturalist (University of Notre Dame) among other
industry publications.  He also has been an agricultural consultant on, of course, the growing of hops.
A Day In Beer History
To all my readers and friends, please stop in and say hello to me at my new home, the great
Nik's Wunderbar,    It's an exclusive Bavarian beer hall and beer garden focusing on
German dishes and German brews. The staff wears traditional Bavarian dress too!  When you come in
be sure to sign up for my free newsletter.  And tell them you saw it here on BeerNexus!
454 Route 22 West Whitehouse Station, NJ 08888
For Matt's latest Wunderbar Newsletter click HERE