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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Beer die league stokes athletic spirit amid winter chill

Over 100 Grinnell College students participate in the spring Beer die league. Photo by Isabel Torrence.

2022 Iowa College Media Association award winner, Honorable Mention – Best Print/Online Sports Feature Reporting

In the bleak Iowa midwinter, students across campus are hungry for any sort of entertainment. As a result of the school’s subpar performance, or perhaps the cult-ish nature of the institution, students have been gathering on Saturday nights to watch each other…drink, competitively.  

Well, technically they are doing more than drinking competitively. They’re playing beer die— a drinking game that is not unique to Grinnell, but integral to its party culture. In tournament-style play, the competitors meet at various off-campus houses to throw ping pong balls into cups of lukewarm beer. But don’t get it twisted, beer die is not only a display of athletic prowess, but also the active continuation of the much discussed, often elusive institutional memory.  

To play beer die, an athlete must be well-rounded. They need to have both cat-like reflexes and the alcoholic tolerance of a Big 10 football player. You also need to be committed; and some teams have even practiced weekly since their first year. Beer die is, in every sense of the word, a competitive sport at Grinnell College.  

Theo Colaiace ’23 admits that back in the day, he used to practice quite a bit, but not anymore. While he doesn’t necessarily have a passion for beer die, he decided that joining the league would be a noble way to spend his last semester.  

“I decided [that] I’m a second semester senior, and I don’t really have the craziest workload. And it’s a fun way to just compete against random people and drink alcohol, which are both good things.” 

Colaiace’s team name is the Breakfast Bagels, something he and his partner came up with together. On a spreadsheet with the dates and locations of the games, there’s a list with almost 60 similarly absurd team names, including Rage Against the Athlete, one of the only all-women teams in the league.  

In her frequently discussed op-ed on the subject, Against Beer Die, Grinnell alum Zoe Fruchter ’21 meditates on the ways in which drinking games, specifically beer die, spotlight male mediocrity. According to Athena Frasca ’23, however, the league is not necessarily a toxically masculine environment.  

“It’s definitely a very loud environment,” said Frasca. “And it can get physical, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable there.” 

Frasca decided to join after talking to her friends about the game. “[They were like] at some point during Grinnell, you probably should like participator, it’s cultural thing to do.” 

When Frasca asked her friends at other schools about the game, they were a bit confused about the hype “They said they’ve played it tailgating, but not so much like the way we do, where we sit around and plays and like, watch people watch. I think it’s unique to Grinnell. They have an obsessiveness about it that other people don’t.”  

Colaiace agrees, saying that while he doesn’t necessarily take the game seriously, some of his competitors do.  

“There are a few houses where it is a big, big event,” said Coliace. “It doesn’t stress me out, but it is a high-stress situation depending on who you are playing.” 

Even for die newcomer Frasca, the stress isn’t too much. According to Frasca, she benefited from a bit of what she attributes to beginners’ luck. In one of her first games, she got three splashes in a row, meaning that the opposing team would have to drink their entire cup three times. In beer die, this is a huge deal. After this win, she was hooked.  

For Colaiace, it’s the pace of the game, not necessarily the wins, that keep him invested. “It’s the sort of thing where you’re like locked in and you’re making a bunch of crazy catches. It’s a lot of reflex. And it’s fun to surprise yourself.” 

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