Today in History: A 15-Foot High Beer Tsunami Kills Nine in London
On October 17, 1814, one of London's largest breweries experienced a fatal accident when a vat holding beer burst.
The wooden vat was 22 feet high and belonged to the Meux and Company Brewery in St Giles, London. Late afternoon, one of the 700-pound iron rings holding the vat in place snapped. The cask ruptured about an hour later, causing hot fermenting beer to pour out with incredible force. The rush of beer was strong enough to blast open several other beer casks and collapse the back wall of the brewery.
The beer flood, also referred to as the 'beer tsunami' by Historic UK, burst onto the London streets, much to the misfortune of nearby residents. A 15-foot-high wave of beer and debris from the 320,000 gallons poured into the densely populated area, flooding the basements of houses and killing eight people.
The Morning Post reported it was "one of the most melancholy accidents we ever remember."
Historic UK recounts that the 'free' beer in the streets had hundreds scooping it up in whatever containers they could find. There are reports that a ninth death resulted days later from alcohol poisoning. The streets smelled like beer for months following the incident.
The event was ruled 'an Act of God', absolving the company from any responsibility.
Historic UK estimates the cost of the flood to have been around £23,000, the equivalent of £1.25 million or $1.32 million today. The company was saved from bankruptcy because it was allowed to reclaim the excise duty paid on the beer and was compensated ₤7,250 by parliament.