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Steam Beer Billy – Part I

Posted by at 6:49 pm | Category: Craft Beer History, San Francisco 0

In this three-part series, Anchor historian Dave Burkhart recounts the true tale of a man, a goat, and their beer—not bock, as one might expect, but steam beer—in nineteenth-century San Francisco.

Disclaimer: What follows is a true story, exactly as told in the San Francisco papers 115 years ago. It is literally history. We do not endorse or otherwise recommend the activities chronicled, including drinking Anchor Steam® Beer with farm animals. To paraphrase a familiar saying, what happens in 1898 stays in 1898! That said, this story is simply too good to keep to ourselves!


On January 2, 1898, the San Francisco Chronicle reported an unusual incident involving William F. “Yankee” Sullivan and his pet goat, Jack, both of whom were apparently quite fond of steam beer. What follows is the Chronicle’s account, exactly as reported 115 years ago:

William F. Sullivan, a sailor, and his billygoat, Jack, wound up their celebration of the new year’s advent by getting arrested at noon yesterday [January 1, 1898] for drunkenness. Jack is the pet of the ship on which Sullivan is an able seaman, and the two have for a long time been constant companions, ashore as well as at sea. Their tastes, too, run alike in many directions—particularly in the direction of beer.

At one stage of his existence Jack used to guide guileless sheep to the slaughter in the Butchertown shambles. [Butchertown was located where San Francisco’s Bayview is today.] It was there that he acquired the liking for human society which became a fixed habit after he had ceased to be a landlubber. His love for beer also came to him when he took to the sea.

Early Friday evening [December 31] Jack and his shipmate, Sullivan, started their New Year’s spree on the water front. Every glass of steam the sailor bought he shared with Jack. They gradually worked their way uptown, and by early morning were making a series of port tacks on Policeman Harter’s beat on Powell street.

The goat was then so drunk that he could not distinguish a delicate tomato can from a musty custard pie, while the seamen’s binnacle [ship’s compass] lamps grew dimmer every minute. The oddly-mated pair managed to travel only by making short luffs from sidewalk to sidewalk. Finally they found anchorage in an alley, and the policeman decided not to disturb them.

At six bells in the morning watch goat and sailor again hove in sight on Policeman Harter’s beat, woozier than ever. They were then convoyed by a highly amused crowd. Finally the goat sat helplessly on his haunches in the middle of the sidewalk, with his head bobbing from side to side—a very picture of hopeless intoxication. He resisted all the coaxings of the sailor and would not move even for the policeman.

When the street had at last become blocked by the crowd the disgusted policeman rang for the Central Station patrol wagon.

As the sailor was being lifted into the wagon he protested vigorously against a suggestion that the goat be taken to the city pound.

“I won’t be locked up, mates, unless Jack goes to jail, too,” was his ultimatum.

Jack was laid alongside him in the wagon and is now [January 2] sleeping off his New Year’s “jag” in the Central Police Station stable, where he will remain until his shipmate’s case is disposed of on Monday.

In Part II of our story, we learn the consequences of celebrating New Year’s with a goat.


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