Too much of a good thing: The Great Beer Flood of 1814, by Cinnamon Worth

Too much of a good thing: The Great Beer Flood of 1814, by Cinnamon Worth

A River of Beer is Still a River

Beer flood

If you’ve read many of my posts, you probably know I love finding interesting historical stories and learning how people have solved mysteries from the past. When I sat down to write this month’s post, it occurred to me that maybe I’ve been inconsiderate. Just because something is historical doesn’t mean this is the right place to share it. Austen Authors is a place where lovers of Jane Austen can gather to read snippets of Austen inspired works, find out more about the Regency Era, or hear about information Austen-loving authors have come across while researching material for new books. I, however, am guilty of going off on tangents, and I am not always very careful about selecting the right time periods. In fact, when I started today’s blog, I was writing about something that will not appear in any of my novels and occurred in America about 100 years after most of the stories in Austen’s novels. So, I went back to the drawing board.

Luckily, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Ireland since my family will visit the Emerald Isle tuis summer. I found out that in 1875, five thousand barrels of whiskey caught on fire, causing flaming whiskey to flood the streets of Dublin. A destructive fire spread and mayhem ensued. Still, a large crowd gathered along the edge of the burning river and used their hats and boots to scoop up the free spirits. The event led to thirteen deaths, all attributed to alcohol poisoning rather than burns or smoke inhalation.

“What has this got to do with Austen or 19th century England?” you ask. It reminded me of the great London Beer Flood of 1814. In this case, the tragedy resulted from a structural failure. As was typical, the brewery involved used large wooden vats to ferment their products—think enormous wooden barrel of wood slats held in place by sturdy rings of metal. Well, in October 1814, one of these iron bands, which was holding together a 22 foot vat filled with port, slipped. As you have already guessed, the vat failed, unleashing a beer tsunami on the streets of London. The wave also broke the spigots on a few of the other vats surrounding it. Over 320,000 gallons of beer assaulted the neighborhood, knocking over buildings and flooding basements. Such destruction didn’t keep people from rushing out to collect and drink beer, of course, but there aren’t any reports of disorderly behavior. Sadly, eight people drowned, and one person later died from alcohol poisoning. The incident did, however, result in the phasing out of wooden vats in favor of ones built of concrete.

Storing so much liquid in one place can be dangerous. Similar stories litter history. There was a deadly molasses flood in Boston in 1919, and more recently, the 2005 benzene spill in China. I guess there is something to be said for storing liquids in smaller quantities.

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Gianna Thomas
May 22, 2022 9:45 PM

Good grief! Sometimes it’s unbelievable what people will do. I can’t imagine drinking anything scooped from a flaming river of booze. It bad enough there were accidents, but what happened to people’s good sense? No wonder some of them died. Interesting post, Cinnamon.

Kirstin Odegaard
May 17, 2022 2:54 PM

Thirteen deaths from alcohol poisoning. Wow. The curse of free stuff.
Interesting post (and I don’t think your posts have ever been inconsiderate).

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
May 17, 2022 10:18 AM

This was an interesting post. I’m sure Mr. Hurst would LOVE to see a river of spirits coming his way. Would he drown or suffer alcohol poisoning? Perhaps, he would learn to swim and enjoy the river ride. LOL! I’m sorry. My mind just went there.

I live in Ky and we are known for bluegrass, horses, and bourbon. We have had our own trials and disasters with storing alcohol. The attached video shows a collapsed building that involved 9,000 barrels. Each barrel holds 53 gallons of bourbon. The video also showed the Heaven Hill Fire of 1996 that cost the company millions of dollars after a storm blew through and lightning struck a building. It then set off a chain reaction that swept through the storage facilities. Thanks for sharing.

J. W. Garrett.
J. W. Garrett.
May 17, 2022 10:22 AM
Reply to  J. W. Garrett.

Oops. Forgot the other video.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
May 17, 2022 8:30 AM

I guess beer can be dangerous after all! I bet that fire created havoc in more ways than one!lol

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