Sept. 27, 1905: Ale dumping leads to fowl play

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • August 31, 2012 - 5:22 PM
Earlier this month, Star Tribune reporter Bill McAuliffe tipped me to a story about chickens getting tipsy on beer dumped into the Mississippi River more than a century ago. Sounded apocryphal, but a search of the Minneapolis Tribune archives proved it to be true. Or mostly true: The besotted birds turned out to be ducks, not chickens.


And Porter To the Amount of 32,000 Gallons Poured Into River.
Crowd of Men Look With Longing Eyes While “Suds” Ripples From Bungs.
Intemperate Ducks Quaff and Soon Stagger Like Real Old Topers.
Quantities of good ale and porter flowing in rippling streams through the dirt and down the river bank to the Mississippi while the sound of the steady blows of a hammer as it opened bung after bung mingled with the interested comments of a little group of spectators, was the spectacle presented near the foot of Twenty-first avenue south yesterday afternoon. Many a sigh of longing was heaved and many expressions of regret that so much good stuff should go to waste were heard as the liquor gurgled away.
There was no Carrie Nation present, and the work was not that of temperance agitators, although it was such as would rejoice their hearts, but it was done under orders from Uncle Sam. The ceremony was conducted under the direction of Samuel N. Nichols, deputy collector of internal revenue, and with the assistance of A.L. Worth, manager of the brewing company and with the full and free consent of the brewery people.
The spirits formed a portion of the stock of the Imperial Brewing company and they had lain in the cellars of the brewery until they soured and became unmarketable as ale and porter. As the company went out of business and the brewery ceased operations on July 1, it was not possible to rebrew the liquor. It could have been sold for vinegar, but in that case it would have been necessary to transfer it to other receptacles and re-label it, and it was thought that this would cost more than would be realized from the sale. So it was decided that the best thing to do was to notify the revenue officer that no tax would be paid on it and invite him to make way with it. As a result, 1,000 barrels, containing 32,000 gallons of what had once been fine ale and porter valued at $10,000, were emptied into the river.
The revenue officers were assisted in their work by a part of the juvenile population of the flats and by a privileged few who had been notified of the event and who shared the spoils; but the matter was kept quiet, as it was feared that the effect of such action on the populace at large would create too much excitement, attract too great a crowd and result in enjoyment which would be too good to last.
Among those who participated in and thoroughly enjoyed the event were a number of ducks belonging to dwellers on the flat. As the spirituous and expensive liquors trickled down the river bank they imbibed freely, and as a result were soon waddling about in an apparent endeavor to do a cake walk. After the liquor had begun to flow those who visited the river noticed a rise in the waters and fears were expressed lest all the finny inhabitants should fall victim to the bacchanalian fare.
The Imperial Brewing company, whose obsequies were celebrated yesterday, started in business in Minneapolis five years ago and a special force of brewers was imported from England to make the ale and porter in the correct English style. The brewery manufactured nothing but these two beverages and ginger ale. The business failed owing to the fact that American taste runs more to beer and whisky. As a result, it was deemed best to close up. The officers of the company included several well-known Minneapolitans. H.P. Watson was president; Douglas Mackay, secretary; A.R. Lamb, treasurer, and A.L. Worth, vice-president and manager.
The building at top right once housed the Imperial Brewing Co. and, earlier, the Minneapolis Brewing Co. and the Noerenberg Brewery. Below lay the Bohemian Flats neighborhood, where residents kept chickens and ducks that were usually in sober condition. (Photo, taken about 1900, is courtesy of the Hennepin County Library's Minneapolis Collection)  


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