Sunday, October 20, 2013

Oktoberfest and Lighthouse Beer

Did lighthouse keepers drink beer? Perhaps. Probably. Yes.

In the U.S. Lighthouse Service, alcohol was strictly forbidden at light stations. But we can be sure it was consumed. I've interviewed many descendents of the keepers who served under the old USLHE and have been told drinking was commonplace and that some keepers even made their own brew: "We hid the brew under the floorboards of the kitchen," one woman said. (I'll protect her identity.) "When the inspector came and walked over that spot on the floor, the floorboards squeaked and we held our breath. One visit he told my dad to get that floorboard fixed--nail it down tight. Ha! If he only knew!"

The Coast Guard keepers I spoke with at New London Ledge Lighthouse in the late 1980 said they were grateful to the local fishermen who often stopped by the waterbound tower on their way home from a day's work and dropped off a six pack. I heard the same story from an early 1970s keeper at Delaware's Harbor of Refuge Light. He said the crew had a special sling for the beer that they lowered into the bay to keep it cold. If they saw one of the Cape May Coast Guard officers approaching in a boat, they hauled up the cache and hid it.

The granddaughter of a 1920s Fire Island lighthouse keeper told me her grandmother often took over the lighthouse duties on Friday night because the keeper (her grandfather?) and his assistant were too drunk to get up the long, spiral stairway. Usually, the men went ashore on Fridays to get mail and supplies and visited the local taproom. "Don't drink and drive a boat" wasn't a self-imposed rule for the two men.

Looking back at issues of the Lighthouse Service Bulletin, published from 1912 to 1939, I've seen a number of entries that read something like: "Keeper of ___________ Lighthouse dismissed for drunkeness."  Logbook entries at lighthouses sometimes had telling notes: "Asst. Keeper got drunk and cussed me out..."

I suppose anything forbidden was all the more desirable. And when you lived far from the charms of civilization and worked at a tedious job, getting drunk was a way to cope.

In recent years, lighthouses have become popular motifs with breweries. I have a sizable collection of beer bottles with lighthouse labels, though I'm not a beer drinker. I usually pour out the contents and keep the bottle. We moved a lot during our active duty years with the U.S. Navy, and a bottle full of liquid--any liquid--can't be shipped with a moving company. If I wanted to keep my lighthouse beer bottle collection, the bottles had to be empty. You can imagine the amused expressions on the packers' faces as they carefully wrapped and boxed the bottles before they were taken on the moving van.

On a trip to British Columbia last year to do some research, I was excited to find a brewing company in Victoria that features several BC lighthouses on its labels. And there are many others...

Here's a fun collection of lighthouse beers and breweries, in honor or Oktoberfest!
Above, the Lighthouse Brewing Company of Victoria, BC offers several lighthouse beers. Below is their pretty label, featuring Race Rocks Lighthouse.

Bodie Island Lighthouse on the Outer Banks gets the honors on this label. A deer riding in a rowboat? I'm not sure what the message is there. Maybe there's an explanation on the carton.

A brew made in Belize! I love the pretty green bottles. Eventually, they might become sea glass. I find a lot of green sea glass--the most common color, I think.

A brew from Lincoln City, Oregon. Is that lighthouse sitting on a whale's head? And does that whale look a bit inebriated?

The old Eddystone Light--the first one--is featured on this UK label.

Here's an acrostic-type lighthouse on the label.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse appears on several beers. Notice the light's rays are symbolic of "blond-ness."

I think this one is Australian--a modest brew considering some of the rough-sounding names for Aussie beers. Dog Bolter is one I remember from my visit to Fremantle in 2000. The sea foam and beer foam seem to go together.

This one even has a cute slogan!
When the night is right...
Get LIT on Barnegat Light!
But don't get wrecked!

And then there are the breweries and pubs...

The lighthouse as beer bottle? Or, the beer bottle as lighthouse?  This is some clever Photoshop work.  From the appearance of the cliff in the first image, I'd say the Photoshopper swapped out Yaquina Head Lighthouse for Corona Lighthouse. I like the lime slice on the cupola. Zesty!

An old tin wall ad for Goebel Beer. The caption says, "It's Mellow-ized!"

And last, below is an actual photo taken when a work crew was sent out to Beachy Head Lighthouse off Dover, England. The place was lonesome, the work was hard, and they painted a request for passing ships to see. I hope they got their beer.

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