Cincinnati and beer have been synonymous for more than 200 years. Cincinnatians love their beer and estimates from the pre-Prohibition days suggest that your average Cincinnatian consumed two to four times the amount of beer your average American drank in a year.
Even so, Cincinnati, according to an infamous article in the old Cincinnati Commercial [3 August 1879] had some true champions among its beer drinkers. This article was picked up by The New York Times and Chicago Tribune and no doubt contributed to Cincinnati’s reputation as a tippling town.
According to the Commercial, a man named Peter Farbaugh could drink 12 glasses of beer while the clock struck noon. Farbaugh, retired by 1879, had been a “reel driver” for the Mohawk Fire Company on McMicken Street. The fire company’s alarm rang the hours and the noon bell tolled for about half a minute.
“Our reporter was told by several credible witnesses that Farbaugh had repeatedly performed the feat of drinking twelve glasses of beer of the ordinary size while the fire bell was striking 12. Finding that considerable time was lost in conveying the glasses to and from his lips, Farbaugh on one occasion poured seventeen glasses of beer into a large bowl, and, placing it to his lips, began to drink when the first stroke was made on the bell, and at the twelfth stroke had downed the last drop.”
Allowing for foam, the Commercial estimated that 17 glasses was around a gallon and a half. Inspired by Farbaugh’s feat, the Commercial‘s reporter wandered around to some of the Queen City’s notable breweries to inquire about similar guzzlers.
At the J.G. Sohn & Co. Brewery on McMicken, he learned about one Dr. Noeffler of Liberty Street who, enjoying the hospitality of the brewery’s founder Johann Sohn, drank an entire keg of beer in two hours.
“A keg holds eight gallons. Dr. Noeffler is quite obese, but no more so than before he became a great beer drinker. The only visible effect which his enormous consumption of beer has had upon him has been to seriously reduce him financially.”
A horse trader named Henry Dielicht was famous in his neighborhood around Elm and Elder Streets for consuming 100 glasses of beer—something like nine gallons—in a single day.
Sometimes, it was the thirst for funds rather than beer that inspired these men to quaff vast oceans of malted beverage.
“Jacob Klein, a man sixty-five years of age, once drank, on a wager of $5, a full keg of beer in two hours. The keg was taken from Sohn’s brewery to a saloon in the rear of the Jackson brewery, and the feat performed in the presence of a room full of spectators. After finishing his task in the allotted time, Klein drank two schooners in addition for luck. He was not intoxicated and claimed to have suffered no inconveniences.”
The Commercial described several more drinkers who, comparative slackers, needed an additional 30 minutes to drain a full keg of beer in two and a half hours.
Some of Cincinnati’s capacity for beer came from the brewery workers who were allowed to drink all they wanted on the job. At Kaufmann’s brewery, a worker known as “Vantzy” commonly downed 200 glasses each shift. That is a fair amount, even considering that breweries provided fairly small glasses for employee use. Kaufmann’s employees usually drank 18 kegs of beer a day, averaging 35 glasses apiece.
“At the same brewery there is an employee named Helmlick who drinks regularly every day fifty-two glasses of beer. He has been doing this for eighteen years. One of the owners of the brewery one day figured the matter up and found that had they charged Helmlick at the rate of five cents a glass for his beer instead of letting him have it for nothing, he would have now been in their debt to the astonishing amount of $25,000.”
Although free beer for employees was common, the amount allowed varied from brewery to brewery. The Gambrinus Stock brewery allowed employees “only” 12 to 14 glasses a day, while Moerlein employees averaged 25 glasses a day. At Sohn’s brewery, five kegs—40 gallons—of beer were set aside each day for 30 employees. At the Jackson Brewery, employee beer was distributed in carefully calculated amounts.
“The men are allowed from six to fourteen glasses each per day according to their age, build, and the quality of work which they do. Cards are placed in a rack behind the bar, upon which the names of the employees are written. A man goes to the bar and asks for a glass, which is given him, and a hole at the same time is punched in his card. When the number of holes corresponds to the number of drinks allowed him for the day, he can have no more, though the day may not yet be more than half spent.”
Just a grain of suspicion may be justified in reading these tales. Although this article was widely circulated in the United States, only the Cincinnati Commercial, on the following day ran a letter from one Peter Farbaugh, the man who allegedly drank 12 beers in 30 seconds. Farbaugh’s letter read, in part:
“Now, Mr. Editor, never having undertaken to perform such a feat or being envious of the reputation for doing so, I wish to contradict it.”
Perhaps Mr. Farbaugh protested too much, but we shall give him his say.
This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities