Earlier in 1826, the academy’s strict superintendent Colonel Sylvanus Thayer had banned the purchase, storage and consumption of alcohol due to concerns about drunkenness among the cadets. However, the new rules were ignored by cadets who sought to continue the annual tradition of drinking homemade eggnog on Christmas Eve.
Late on the 22 December three cadets crossed the Hudson River and bought whiskey from Martin’s Tavern. Having paid the security guard at the academy to ignore their smuggling efforts, they hid the alcohol in one of their rooms in the North Barracks while another cadet successfully obtained another gallon from another local tavern.
The party began at around 10pm on the evening of 24 December in North Barracks room No. 28, followed by another party in room No. 5. Jefferson Davis, who was later elected President of the Confederate States of America, was one of the cadets in attendance.
The party continued without much incident until around 4am, when noise from the increasingly drunken revellers woke teaching officer Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock who went to investigate and ordered the cadets back to their rooms. Incensed, at least 70 drunken cadets instead launched the infamous riot in which they brandished weapons, broke windows, and assaulted two officers.
Of the rioters, only 19 of them faced disciplinary action. Beginning on 26 January 1827, the trials resulted in guilty verdicts for all the defendants although eight of them were saved from expulsion.
On the 15th December 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution came into effect, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment which had made the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol illegal. Having been proposed on the 20th February 1933, it was ratified on the 5th December.
Prohibition was introduced in 1920 as a result of the 18th Amendment. This ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages was greeted with delight by members of the temperance movement, but many law-abiding Americans who had previously been drinkers felt anger towards the government for criminalising what they viewed as a harmless activity.
As a result, some members of the public were willing to break the law, and this quickly ushered in a period of criminal activity focused around the production of illegal bootlegged alcohol. Al Capone, one of prohibition’s most famous gangster bosses, made around $60 million a year from bootlegging alcohol and selling it in so-called ‘speakeasies’.
Izzy Einstein, one of the government’s most famous prohibition agents, demonstrated the scale of the problem facing the authorities who were trying to enforce the ban on alcohol. When visiting New Orleans it took Einstein just 35 seconds to obtain liquor after his taxi driver offered him a bottle of whisky.
Combined with many police officers being paid by the criminals to turn a blind eye to illegal activity, prohibition brought lawlessness and corruption to America. In the wake of the Wall Street Crash, repealing prohibition made sound economic sense, although the introduction of the 21st Amendment ensured that individual states were still able to enforce their alcohol laws.
On the 12th October 1810, the first Oktoberfest took place in Munich. First established to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, the most important part of the festivities was a horse race held on the final day. The decision to repeat the race the following year led to the establishment of the annual festival, at which beer halls and carnival stalls soon began to dominate although certain elements – such as the procession from Maximilian Strasse to the festival ground – continue to be important parts of the event. Amazingly, since its foundation, the festival has only not taken place 24 times in over 200 years.
The fairground on which the Oktoberfest is held also takes its name from the original event. Known as Theresienwiese or “Theresa’s meadow” in honour of Ludwig’s wife, the land used to lie outside the city gates but is now such an important part of the city that it even has its own station on the U-Bahn. Covering an area of 420,000 square metres and now housing 14 large tents and 20 smaller beer tents in addition to a huge fairground, the site hosts in excess of 6 million people a year.
These visitors invariably travel to enjoy the Oktoberfest beer, a special brew that is 2% stronger than conventional beer, and that must be brewed within the city limits of Munich according to the Reinheitsgebot or German Beer Purity Law decreed by Duke William IV in 1516.
Incidentally, the last horse race – the event that kick-started Oktoberfest as an annual celebration – took place in 1960.
On the 31st July 1970, the British Royal Navy issued the last daily rum ration, or “tot”, to sailors. The end of the daily ration became known as “Black Tot Day”.
A daily ration of rum, sometimes referred to as ‘grog’, had been part of the ratings – or enlisted sailors’ – day since 1655 when a half-pint ration of rum was introduced in order to reduce the amount of space needed to transport pint rations of beer. The drink was issued at 6 bells in the forenoon watch, or 11am, and was marked by the call ‘Up Spirits’. Due to its alcoholic content, the size of the ration did gradually decrease to an eighth of a pint of rum – or 70ml – per day by 1850.
As the technological systems and equipment on board ships became more and more complex, concerns over sailors drinking alcohol were raised. In December 1969 the Admiralty Board, which meets in order to administer the Royal Navy, published a written statement that said issuing rum was “no longer compatible with the high standards of efficiency required”.
The following month, the ‘Great Rum Debate’ took place in the House of Commons and concluded that the rum ration should end despite the impassioned argument of the MP James Wellbeloved that rum helped sailors to “face the coming action with greater strength and greater determination”.
On Black Tot Day itself the last pouring of rum was marked with funerary significance as some sailors wore black armbands or – in the case of the Royal Naval Electrical College – by conducting a mock funeral procession.
On the 17th October 1814 eight people were killed when nearly one and a half million litres of beer swept out of London’s Horse Shoe Brewery and formed an alcoholic tidal wave that swept down Tottenham Court Road. As well as causing loss of life, the flood rushed with such force that two houses were completely destroyed.
The brewery, which was owned by Meux and Company, had first been established in 1764 on the site of a tavern at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. The area soon developed into one of dense slum housing known as St Giles Rookery, and was immortalised in the work of the artist William Hogarth who used it as the inspiration for his Gin Lane.
Although some citizens held concerns over the presence of large quantities of beer so close to a residential area, there was no response from the company or the authorities. Even when one of the metal hoops that helped to hold the vats together broke earlier the day, nothing was done to improve its safety.
Once the beer began to pour into the street, it quickly began filling the cellars of nearby houses in which families lived. Some of these drowned when they became trapped underground in the sea of beer.
Despite the destruction, the flood was declared to be an act of God by both judge and jury, and so the brewery was able to resume production shortly afterwards. Beer continued to be brewed on the site until 1921 when it was cleared to make way for the Dominion Theatre.
On the 4th August 1693, legend says that French Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon invented champagne. Apparently he shouted, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars,” and began the world’s love for sparkling wine.
Unfortunately both of these claims are untrue. Firstly, there is no evidence that Pérignon ever claimed to be drinking the stars, and the earliest reference to the phrase is in a champagne advertisement from the 1880s – nearly 200 years later. Secondly – and most importantly – Dom Pérignon did not invent champagne. In fact he dedicated much of his time as cellar master at the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers to researching how to avoid making sparkling wine.
Sparkling wine was a problem for Dom Pérignon because the build-up of carbon dioxide from a secondary fermentation inside the bottle could cause it to explode without warning. In a cellar, the proximity of the exploding bottle to other bottles could set off a devastating chain-reaction and led to sparkling wine becoming known as le vin du diable or “the devil’s wine”. However, developments in English glassmaking in the 17th century created bottles could withstand the additional pressure and records – including a paper presented to the Royal Society in 1662 – suggest that it was the English scientist Christopher Merret who first developed the process to make sparkling wines through secondary fermentation.
However, Pérignon did make a significant contribution to the development of champagne as we know it today. In particular, he mastered the technique that allows winemakers to produce white wines from red grapes – something that is an important part of the champagne process.