Drinking in the Past

Last week, the world went wild when Gabby DiMarco unexpectedly caught a foul ball in her beer and then chugged it while the Padres played the Braves at San Diego’s Petco Field. YouTube videos quickly popped up, honoring DiMarco and commemorating the event. Sure, it was just one of those crazy, one-in-a-million moments the media loves to air over and over, but it’s also one of many happy accidents destined to go down as a great moment in beer history. Let’s look at a few more-some are fascinating, one is tragic.

In the tiny Texas border town of Lajitas, a beer-swilling candidate claimed victory in the mayoral race of 1986. The rub was, said swiller was a goat. Yup, Clay Henry Sr. was a black mountain goat with a thirst for brewskis, known to snatch cans and bottles from unsuspecting humans. Eventually, the honorable Mr. Henry became a tourist attraction in the one-goat town. He served only one term, but that was all he needed to become a Texas beer legend.

Alas, when the 1992 rutting season came around, his equally inebriated (some say scoundrel) son, Henry Clay Jr., started a head-butting brawl over a doe, and Daddy Clay was killed by the evil scion. I guess you could say Clay Jr. got the old man’s goat.

On Oct. 17, 1814, the Meux and Company Brewery was the scene of one of history’s most horrific beer tragedies. Eight people lost their lives when a huge wooden fermentation tank burst open, spewing forth 162,000 gallons of beer. The structure failure started a domino effect in the factory, sending nearly 400,000 gallons of porter gushing down narrow alleys and streets. Accounts of the catastrophe tell of area residents climbing up on furniture to escape the deluge.

In the 1970s, a cultural icon was introduced to the drinking world: a simple red plastic cup. Perhaps no other non-beer item is more closely linked to beer than Solo Cup Company’s ubiquitous red cup. Solo cups are vital to fun activities from beer pong and flip cup to keggers and picnics. So beloved are the ruby goblets, country singer Toby Keith had a hit song about them, with lyrics like, “Now I’ve seen you in blue and I’ve seen you in yellow / But only you, red, will do for this fellow.” Good luck getting that out of your head.

Its name origins are hotly contested, but no one argues that the growler is among the greatest inventions of the beer-loving world. In the late 1800s, taverns began filling tin pails with beer for patrons to take home. The pails were repurposed, filled with cool brew and taken—by kids—to thirsty workers while on the job. Over time, growlers evolved from tin pails to waxed cardboard containers, à la Chinese takeout. In the 1960s, growlers all but vanished, returning in 1989 when Otto Brothers Brewery reintroduced the reusable glass jugs we know and love today.

There are hundreds more anecdotes about the beverage we’re besotted with; I’m saving them for another column.