Who is the greatest boozer of all time?
We’ve posed that question before. In 2002 we resurrected 16 of the history’s hardest-pounding hoochers and squared them off in a ferocious, tournament-style, single-elimination, winner-walks-out-on-the-tab bottle-royale.
Legendary lushes like Winston Churchill and Babe Ruth crashed their vast appetites for booze into the cast-iron livers of monster inebriates Ernest Hemingway and W.C. Fields, and when the bar tabs cleared, a resurgent Jackie Gleason seized the crown from a stunned Charles Bukowski.
The Exhaustive Selection Process Explained
The exquisitely logical answer that there simply wasn’t enough room for the whole bloody lot of them was met with more yawps, so here we begin again with 16 fresh contenders, each eager to seize the crown of top toper. Then, once the winner emerges triumphant, we’ll pit him or her in a king-hell showdown with the original Clash champion, the aforementioned Jackie Gleason.
First off, living drinkers were excluded because their story is not fully told; for all we know they’ll join the Anti-Saloon League and start bad-mouthing sweet mother booze.
Backsliders such as Jack London, who did turn against the booze in his latter years, were also disqualified because winners never quit and quitters never win.
Lesser-known hard pounders were also excused because everyone has an uncle who should be in the fight and we only have room for 16 contenders—and we’d have to take you and your aunt’s word for it and we personally don’t trust either of you.
Personality was a deciding factor, because who wants to watch two stoic behemoths trade pitchers of Miller Lite for 12 hours?
Finally, since this is the second of the series, if you don’t see your personal drinking hero in the fight, odds are he or she participated in the first Clash.
One final note—this is a drinking contest, and like any contest, there are psychological elements involved. Having a superior capacity for alcohol will not always win the day.
So place your bets, pour yourself a strong one, and let’s get ready to stumble!
Tale of the Tab
Andre the Giant: Andre’s entry into the contest had many crying foul. And no wonder: towering in at 7 feet and weighing over 500 lbs, some purists contend that actual giants shouldn’t be allowed to compete with regular humans. As proof they point to the nearly inhuman feat where Andre allegedly tipped back 156 beers in a single sitting. He would seem absolutely unbeatable if it weren’t for his good-natured habit of laying hands on and sometimes physically crushing drinking companions— which would result in immediate disqualification.
Alexander the Great: Perhaps history’s greatest conqueror, not to mention a self-proclaimed god, it’s fitting that Alexander will be the first to test Andre’s mettle. His strategic genius, iron will, unmatched physical fitness, and gargantuan capacity for wine makes for a formidable opponent. If he has any weakness at all, it’s his profound lack of experience with today’s high-octane liquors.
The Build Up
Howard Cosell: It’s been billed as The God vs. The Giant. The self-anointed son of Zeus descends Mount Olympus to do battle with a flesh-and-blood behemoth.
Laurence Olivier: It’s rumored that the Alexander camp is outraged by the overwhelming odds the bookmakers have given Andre. Alex’s corner claims they have consulted the Oracle and his victory is assured.
HC: I’m surprised the odds aren’t higher. I think the whole deity thing has some bettors rattled.
LO: That and the very real possibility that Andre will disqualify himself by manhandling—Great God! Here comes Andre through the crowd! Look at the size of the brute!
HC: Nearly twice the weight of his nearest opponent.
LO: Oh, for Heaven’s sakes, just give him the bloody crown. What’s the point of all this? It’s like pitting children against a bloody adult.
HC: Andre shoves aside the oversized chair set out for him, and his posse of handlers rolls what appears to be a beer barrel in its place.
LO: Upon which he has a seat. His cornerman fills a tankard the size of a water pail from the barrel and passes it up to Andre.
HC: The ref stares at Andre, scratching the back of his neck.
LO: I don’t think there is an actual rule against drinking before the contest begins.
HC: And who’s going to stop him if there was? In Andre’s wrestling days his standard pre-match ritual was to suck down a couple gallons of beer. His way of warming up.
LO: Hark! Trumpets blare from the opposite end of the bar and in comes Alexander! He is surrounded by a splendidly outfitted entourage of slaves and soldiers bearing standards and flags. Maidens scatter rose petals in his path as he marches forward, head lifted to the heavens. What an astonishing figure! What a stark contrast to the slovenly Andre! What pomp, what presence!
HC: He does know how to prance.
LO: The crowd parts in awe as he strides forward, no fear or hesitation in his heart!
HC: He hasn’t seen Andre yet.
LO: Only now that he has reached the table does he lower his proud eyes and has a look at—
HC: Eyes suddenly bulging with shock, he shrieks and flinches back like he’s stepped on a cobra!
LO: “Gigante!” Alex shouts. “Gigante!”
HC: We don’t need the translator to tell us what that means.
LO: Steady on, Alex! Hold steady! What’s that he’s doing with his hand?
HC: He’s reflexively clawing at his hip — he appears to be grabbing for a non-existent sword. Swords are strictly against the rules, as you—look out! Now he’s attempting to wrest a flag from one of his soldiers, perhaps to use as a spear.
LO: Get him Alex! Harpoon the brute! It’s your only chance!
HC: Calm down, Larry. The ref steps in, putting his hands on Alexander’s shoulders, trying to settle him down.
LO: Several of Alex’s entourage surge forward, seizing the arms of the ref. Egad. This is beginning to resemble a badly-staged wrestling match.
HC: Andre rises from his barrel, lifting his huge arms high! All eyes turn to Andre.
LO: Well, that stopped the squabble. Alex’s entourage shrinks away and Alex releases the flag and takes his seat.
HC: As does a laughing Andre. I think we’re ready to begin.
LO: Alex seems to have collected himself. He rises to his feet to make an announcement through the tableside interpreter.
HC: “I will spare you if you surrender,” Alexander says. “If not, terrible things will befall you.”
LO: It’s the same warning he gave enemy armies and fortified cities. And he was always true to his word.
HC: The speech continues, with Alex saying—hold on! Andre has lifted a huge hand and palmed the interpreter’s head as if it were a grapefruit, squeezing the startled man’s jaw shut.
LO: Disqualification! The savage brute is dis—
HC: Not so fast, Larry. The interpreter is not part of Alexander’s team. He is a neutral party. The ref gives Andre a warning, but technically the Giant broke no rule. Smiling, Andre releases the man’s head and the ref immediately flips a coin, eager to get the match underway.
(Alexander wins the coin toss.)
LO: The gods have favored the man from Macedonia.
HC: He’s going to need all the help they can give him.
LO: Don’t be so certain. All this bloody giant did was toss around muscle-bound brutes in a wrestling ring. Alex conquered most of the known world and rolled up many an army in his short lifetime. Surely he can defeat a single man, albeit an extremely large one.
Alexander orders pitchers of Thracian wine
HC: No ordinary pitchers, Larry. Called chous, these oversized clay vessels hold around three quarts of vino. On a typical night, Alex was known to lay back four of them.
LO: Nor an ordinary wine, Howard. This is thick, nasty stuff, often flavored with pitch and pine tar. It appears that Alex, presented with another Gordian Knot, has opted once again for heavy weaponry.
HC: Andre yawns extravagantly, plainly unimpressed.
LO: Very nearly bored. Good Lord! In his massive paw the chous resembles a child’s teapot.
HC: Andre, a Frenchman, is no stranger to wine.
LO: Raising his vessel high with both hands, Alex presents it to the heavens, apparently offering a prayer to his reputed father, Zeus.
LO: We’ll have to guess; the translator doesn’t seem willing to do his job. He just sits there, staring with terror at Andre.
HC: And look, Andre also raises his pitcher high over his head.
LO: And expertly pours it into his mouth! The long stream of wine hisses into his gullet like rainwater down a storm grate, spilling nary a drop.
HC: Jolting Alex, who quickly finishes his prayer and starts in on his pitcher. He gulps down half of it on the four count, then breathlessly aims a guttural shout at the translator.
LO: Who gapes at Alex in horror. What did Alex say?
HC: The interpreter springs up, dashes behind Alex’s entourage and shouts from a safe distance: “Death to monsters!” Was he translating or is that a personal feeling?
LO: Alex tips the pitcher back and sinks the remainder on the nine count.
HC: That would be some impressive drinking if he weren’t sitting across from Andre.
LO: Who brazenly, insultingly, powers down another stein of beer before putting his order in.
Andre orders 24.5 oz “oil cans” of Fosters Lager
HC: Andre generally prefers drinking from cans. He likes to crush them in his fist.
LO: And drink he does. He empties the oversized can to his mouth in one go, crushes the can, then throws it at Alex! Disqualification!
HC: Hold on, Larry. He threw it well over Alex’s head. It bounced off the skull of a standard bearer—is that against the rules?
LO: Of course it is!
HC: The ref hesitates. He seems unwilling to call the match on a minor technicality.
LO: Of course! There’d be a riot! This rude mob is definitely aligned with Andre.
HC: The ref seems to think so too. He warns Andre but lets the match continue.
LO: A disgraceful start to the tournament, if you ask me.
Alexander orders pitchers of Delphic wine
LO: The portentous wine of the Delphic Oracle. I believe sulfur is the main taste point of this vintage.
HC: I can smell it from here.
LO: Alex has consulted the cellars of Hades for this wine. Wait—what? Good heavens! Could it be? Yes! It’s Olympias, Alexander’s mum!
HC: Where the hell did she come from? She was just suddenly there, standing behind him.
LO: Is rather odd, isn’t it?
HC: Alexander doesn’t seem all that excited by her arrival.
LO: He squirms like a schoolboy in a headmaster’s office. Andre better hope his opponent’s father doesn’t pop in.
HC: You don’t believe in that stuff, do you?
LO: I didn’t believe in giants until I saw Andre.
HC: Good point.
LO: It appears Olympias is indulging in some sort of religious invocation.
HC: To the Greek god of wine Dionysus, no doubt. She was known to truck with Dio.
LO: Andre sniffs suspiciously at the wine.
HC: He doesn’t seem so eager to gullet this one.
LO: Can’t blame him. Olympias was an expert poisoner. She faded many of her son’s rivals with tainted cups.
HC: This time it’s Alex who starts in first, taking down a quart. He doesn’t seem to mind the taste.
LO: Andre has a go at his—no, he doesn’t like it one bit.
HC: He barely got down a mouthful. And what a face he made.
LO: Encouraged, Alex takes another great draught, reducing his to a bare third.
HC: While Andre balks! Could David have found his lucky sling-stone? Has Goliath’s brow been smote?
LO: Down it, Alex! Put the monster in his place!
HC: Sit down, Larry. What’s gotten into you?
LO: Alex finishes his lot! And Andre has almost a full pitcher left. Olympias is laughing!
HC: Andre seems transfixed on Alex’s mother. Is he hypnotized?
LO: Four! Five! His posse is in a panic!
HC: Six! Suddenly he palms the pitcher and begins pouring it into his wide mouth.
LO: It’s too late! What an upset! He—
HC: Up tilts the pitcher up and down goes the wine! Nine! And—
LO: He smashes the empty pitcher onto the table. Shards fly everywhere! With a half second to spare, he—
HC: Made it to round four. Barely!
LO: Olympias is beside herself with rage. Her magic missed its mark.
HC: Andre quickly rinses out his mouth with barrel beer. He doesn’t like that sulfur swill one bit.
Andre orders quadruple shots of Taaka Vodka.
LO: A wise tactical decision. Alex is a master of wine, beer doesn’t seem to faze him, but they didn’t have anything in the way of hard liquor in his day.
HC: Since the explosion of clay shards, Alex’s entourage seems more tense.
LO: Another fracture of the rules. I guess being a giant means you can get away with anything.
HC: Between rounds the ref loudly informed Andre’s corner that the next item thrown will be treated as a white towel. Alex has got to think his chances are good. Another chous of sulfur wine might well give him a huge upset.
LO: Andre tries on a smile, then quickly knocks back the huge shot as if it were a delightful cup of spring water.
HC: Alex picks his up, has a large taste and—almost spits it up! He wasn’t expecting that sort of power from a clear liquid!
LO: Three! He seems aghast! His mother grabs his ear and shouts into it. Five!
HC: It’s Alex’s turn to leap to his feet!
LO: He shouts something, some terrible thing!
HC: And lays back the shot on the eight count. His face is crimson, his eyes water. Is he crying? Is the conqueror of kings crying?
LO: Might be. It sounded as if he shouted, “Socrates!” Perhaps he imagined he was being poisoned like the old sage.
HC: Andre raises his empty glass, as if to hurl it at Alex’s face!
LO: Andre’s handlers swarm over him like ants on a beetle, shouting furiously in his ears.
HC: Alex stands, shoved forward by his mother, and braces for the attack.
LO: Shrugging off his posse like so many gnats, Andre raises high the glass and—
HC: Laughs! He slowly sets the glass down on the table. He came damned close to elimination.
LO: Both men sit down. I think we know what’s coming.
Alexander orders pitchers of Delphic wine.
HC: No surprise here.
LO: One must stick with one’s strengths.
HC: Alex gets right to it. He tips the clay vessel up—and up—and up! He finishes it! Incredible!
LO: Strong play, but I’m a bit surprised. He was known to drink wine for three days straight without stop, but surely not at this rate.
HC: Look out! Alex swings the pitcher in a high overhand arc and smashes it to bits on the table! Even Andre flinches back from the exploding shards.
LO: The crowd is in an uproar, calling for disqualification! The ref is paralyzed with indecision! He is dumbfounded! Tit for tat!
HC: And it’s already the five count and Andre hasn’t touched his pitcher.
LO: Snapping out of it, he lunges at the vessel. There is fear in his eyes.
HC: He holds his nose with one hand and pours with the other. Eight! Nine! Te— He got it down!
LO: He didn’t!
HC: The ref says he did.
LO: He was distracted. This is why the sport needs instant replay. He was a full quarter second late!
HC: Doesn’t matter now. The ref called it.
LO: Olympias hisses at the ref like a snake. She looks ready to claw his eyes out. Andre seems shaken.
HC: More than that. He suddenly seems interested.
LO: Well. Judging by his behavior, it looks as if Alex has disdained Nietzsche’s advice about he who fights monsters should be careful not to become one.
HC: Why not? It’s working for him.
Andre orders quadruple shots of Lemon Hart Demerara 151-proof Rum.
HC: Boom! Talk about a broadside. If this doesn’t rattle Alex’s hull, nothing will.
LO: The sulfur wine seems to have recharged the lad. He seems jaunty, confident.
HC: He’s drunk. It’s an odd match so far—neither seems willing to grind it out. Both keep going for a knock-out punch.
LO: Hello! Did I just see Andre sip at his rum? I expected a power play.
HC: Look at the sag in his shoulders. He’s completely off his game. Perhaps he was poisoned!
LO: Let’s not start any rumors we can’t substantiate, Howard.
HC: Alex jumps to his feet, grabs his glass, raises it high, gives a great booming shout, then slams it back!
LO: Alex’s greatest skill on the battlefield was a keen eye for opportunity—he knew exactly when to strike and with what amount of force. And this may be that moment!
HC: He finishes it off! 151-proof quadruple, down the hatch!
HC: But did you see his eyes at mid-gulp? Something in them snapped. Like a gear broke loose in his head.
LO: Nonsense. Groaning, Andre picks his glass and slowly drains it on the six count. If anyone resembles a machine grinding to a halt, it’s Andre.
HC: Scuffles are breaking out in the crowd. The sure thing is now a long shot and the bettors are becoming unhinged. There may be a riot yet.
LO: The momentum has definitely shifted to Alex’s corner.
Alex orders Brandy Alexander the Greats.
LO: There was a bit of a squabble in Alex’s corner between rounds. Apparently Olympias wanted him to keep with the Delphic—
HC: But Alex went with a cocktail that bears his name, though it was not named after him.
LO: No one knows for sure. He calls his version Brandy Alexander the Great because he has added a double shot of 151-proof rum to the recipe.
HC: Which he now claims is his favorite drink. Eschewing his chair, he sways before the table, smiling, cracking jokes with his soldiers. He seems quite drunk.
LO: Andre, on the other hand, merely seems dispirited.
LO: Nonsense. Alex has already taken half his down. He does seem to like this sweet chocolatey drink, which is surprising because neither rum nor chocolate existed in his world.
HC: “Ol’ Gigante,” he slurs through the interpreter. “Good ol’ Gigante. Your not such a mean monster. Just ugly!” He finishes his drink and slams the glass down on the table.
LO: Andre tips down his in one go, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and rumbles, “These are drinks for ladies.”
HC: Alex waits for the translation, then—
LO: His face goes ashen! His teeth grind.
HC: He raises his arms and howls like a madman.
LO: Good God! The last time he got this loaded he burned down Persepolis.
HC: “I am Gigantor!” Andre shouts. Obviously trying to get a rise out—
LO: “I am a God!” Alex ripostes.
HC: “You are a mamma’s boy!” Andre roars.
LO: Alex—Alex appears to be doing some sort of exercise, lunging this way and—
HC: He’s not just drunk. He’s mentally unbalanced.
LO: Look at the way Olympias stares at Andre. It’s like she’s trying to peer into his soul.
HC: I tell you, she poisoned him. She didn’t use enough and now she’s upset.
Andre orders Flaming Alexanders.
LO: What’s he trying to say with this order?
HC: Don’t know, but these are lethal drinks. Almost everything in it is over-proof, and, as you can see, the drinks are indeed flaming.
LO: Andre raises his and gestures for Alex to join him in a friendly toast.
HC: “To you!” Andre says, then hesitates with the drink in front of his face. He peers into the flames.
LO: Through the flames, you mean, he’s watching Alex who—he’s—he’s not blowing his drink out first. He thinks you’re supposed to drink it while—
HC: He’s trying to drink it while it’s—rookie move!
LO: What is this magic? Alexander’s head is suddenly lit by a halo of golden light!
HC: Fire! Fire! Alex’s hair is on fire!
LO: Great God! Oh, the humanity!
HC: Howling, Alex races around the room like a wild animal, his head engulfed in flames!
LO: He’s like a low-flying Apollo, blazing with glory, he—
HC: The crowd tries to get out of his way—they’re heroically throwing their drinks at him, trying to put out the flames, but he’s moving too fast, he—
LO: Circles back to the table where Andre sticks out an arm—
HC: And clotheslines him! Alex’s feet fly out from under and he hit’s the floor hard. Alex is down!
LO: Andre pours a mug of barrel beer over Alex’s head, putting out the fire. He—he hit Alex! Disqual—
HC: Like hell! He stuck out his arm and Alex ran into it. Then he put the fire out. If anything he deserves a—
LO: The referee, he—
HC: The ref raises Andre’s hand! Andre wins by TKO!
LO: Hold on! This is most unusual, this—
HC: It’s over, the Semi-Giant has defeated the Demi-God! The crowd is ecstatic!
LO: This can’t— Outrage! This is an outrage!
HC: This is a how it ends, ladies and gentleman. After eight hard-fought rounds Andre the Giant moves on in the tournament and Alexander the Great has fallen into—
LO: Indeed! A god hath descended from on high, a monster hath riseth from below—
HC: For heaven’s sake, Larry, sit down.
LO: And alas! Witness thee firsthand, brutes—the twilight of the Gods!
HC: Oh boy.