Any excuse for a drink: London Beer Flood, October 17

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It sounds like an absolute dream: free beer, and lots of it. But, when it amounts to over a million litres gushing like a hellish contraption, it’s not as fun as you’d imagine. The residents of 19th-century London learned this firsthand during the London Beer Flood of 1814.

The tragedy (or miracle, if you like) stemmed from giant vats of porter at the Meux and Company Brewery in the parish of St. Giles. One of the vats had held enough beer to sustain the England rugby team, or 511,920 litres. On October 17, the little vat finally succumbed to the strain of holding such a load. The tank exploded, causing nearby vats to also rupture.

1,224,000 litres of beer flooded St. Giles. Homes, shops, and taverns were engulfed in the deluge. Unfortunately, nine souls also perished. Most died from drowning. One died from alcohol poisoning in an apparent attempt to drink himself out of the flood (good try, man).

After the overflow, the people of St. Giles cleaned up their neighbourhood by scooping the remaining beer into kettles, pots, and other containers. The Meux Brewery was taken to court. However, the flood was ruled as an “Act of God” and no punishment was given.

On this day, have a drink to pay tribute to those who died in this bizarre disaster. Get a bottle of porter at Trafalgar’s, a British pub with a balcony overlooking Wan Chai. With more than 40 English ales on the menu and good pub grub, it’s the perfect place to indulge in your own internal beer flood.

When: October 17.
Where: Trafalgar, 5/F, The Broadway, 54-62 Lockhart Rd, 2110 1535.
Drink: Fuller’s London Porter ($63).

Linda Yang

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