top of page

"Beer Barrel Polka" history (continued)

So how did the "Beer Barrel Polka" become popular in America? One idea is that many Czechs fled when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, and they brought the song with them to other parts of the world.


New words, the ones we know, were written by Lew Brown and Wladimir Timm, though how they got from a song about lost love to a song about beer and fun baffles me. When the Andrews Sisters recorded the song, it really took off.

One interesting tidbit I discovered is that the Andrews sisters didn’t want to record the song at all. One of the sisters, Maxine, is quoted in The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record, by H. Arlo Nimmo, as saying, “My God, we’re not gonna sing a polka. That's all we heard when we were kids.”  But, eventually, record they did, and the song was a smash. It became especially popular with soldiers all over the world. (My guess is the “beer” in the title had something to do with that.)


Not everyone liked the subject matter of the song, though. NBC removed “beer” from the title, though they didn’t censor the lyrics. It was also reportedly deemed “too lusty” and banned as a marching song for soldiers of the US Air Force training in Atlantic City in 1943.


A few more tidbits of history:


  • At the San Jose Giants home games, someone from the opposing team is designated the “beer batter.” The "Beer Barrel Polka" is played whenever the beer batter comes to the plate, and if the San Jose pitcher strikes him out, beer is half price for the next 15 minutes. After the sixth inning, the beer batter becomes the apple juice batter. If he strikes out, fans can buy half-priced Martinelli’s apple juice. (I assume this is to encourage drinking responsibly?)


  • My grandmother was a huge Liberace fan, so I was surprised to learn that “The Beer Barrel Polka” was a favorite of his. Here is a YouTube clip of him playing the song on, of course, the piano, not the accordion.


  • A May 20, 1940, issue of the Nebraska State Journal had this headline: Beer Barrel Polka Got Woman a Sock In The Eye. It seems a woman was feeding nickels into a tavern’s “music vending machine” when another woman didn’t like the idea of hearing the “Beer Barrel Polka” for a third consecutive time, so she punched her. She was charged with assault. (I don’t know if the judge took pity on her or not.)

There are so many YouTube video clips of the "Beer Barrel," but one of my favorites is Chico Marx playing the song on the piano after announcing “the second movement of the Beer Barrel Polka.” Have a look here!

If you love “The Beer Barrel Polka,” I’m happy for you. If you love playing it, I’m happy for you. But for me, well, I’d rather play just about anything else!

bottom of page