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The Misguided Pleasures of “Slap the Bag”

For ages the drinking game has united humans in riotous consumption. In our column "House Rules," Drew Lazor explores drinking games throughout time and around the world. Up now: "Slap the Bag," America’s finest boxed wine-based drinking game.

“I want you to slap this as hard as you can.”

I’m in my dining room, participating in what might be the worst Fight Club recreation the world has ever seen. I’m standing in for Tyler Durden, minus the unflappable confidence and chiseled Jesus torso. An undulating plastic bladder of Corbett Canyon pinot grigio, which I’m dangling an arm’s length away from my body, is standing in for my face. My friend Lou, one of the more reasonable people I know, is playing the Ed Norton part. I’m trying to get him to bash the living hell out of the wine-filled bag in front of him, and Lou, true to the film, is a little reluctant.

Eventually, Lou relents, walloping the pouch with a square hit so bullwhip-crisp that it deserves one of those on-screen onomatopoeia bursts from the OG Batman (THWACKE!). The impact causes a mess of tiny bubbles to collect atop the liquid, like froth on a latte. “Hm. That kinda stung,” he deadpans.

If I was a stickler for the rules, Lou’s strike would have been accompanied by an extended period of straight-from-the-spigot wine chugging, an act aided by equal parts gravity and poor judgment. My goal, though, was more empirical: recreating the primary action of Slap the Bag, America’s finest boxed wine-based drinking game.

Since Lou is one of those people who makes what our moms call “good decisions,” this was his first physical altercation involving bottom-shelf wine. For me, though, StB is something I first observed at our alma mater, La Salle University, a small urban Catholic school in northwest Philadelphia. It played out in a couple of different ways back then.

The most common: Someone would acquire inexpensive boxed wine—most frequently Franzia (shoutout to Sunset Blush)—pull the bag from its cardboard shell, then roam around a party challenging randos to glug directly from the tap. Depending on who’s playing, this accomplishment would either begin or end with an emphatic open-handed slap—similar in spirit to spiking the beer can after a successful shotgun, but obviously way classier because it’s wine. Why a slap? Partly because the bag can take it (the things are indestructible), but also because it’s a punctuating gesture that appeals to all comers—think about how fun beating a piñata would be if everyone were guaranteed a candy payout.

Slap the Bag

My friend and fellow La Salle alum Jeff filled me in on a more structured rendition. Arranged in a circle, competitors toss a full wine bladder to one another; anyone who catches it proceeds with the drink-and-slap ritual. The penalty for dropping the bag when thrown to you or forgetting to slap it (“which happens quite often, despite it being right in the title”): wearing the discarded wine box on your head, a punishment accompanied by excessive verbal shaming.

“A memorable aphorism of the game is, ‘If you want to get anything done, stop at one bag,’” adds Jeff, who recalls one instance when he and his friends logged multiple sloppy StB sessions before attempting to play a murder mystery parlor game. “[This] led to the game being an utter failure and the identity of the murderer being a mystery to this day,” he says.

All this took place in the early ‘00s, which is when the practice of Slapping the Bag, at least under that name, started gaining steam. The game, however, retains a surprisingly small Internet footprint. The image hosting site Flickr features a photo dated January 2003 of a bandana’d bro chugging from a wine sack. Over on YouTube, the earliest clips featuring StB date back to 2006. This one, centered around a girl named Jackie stumbling into a wall while “This Must Be the Place” plays in the background, is the earliest, but my personal favorite features somebody’s sweet grandma taking a couple nice chops.

As for its origins, this 2011 blog post insists that StB was invented at Ohio University, but there’s little out there corroborating that claim. Thirsty for something more concrete, I decided to focus on a nation whose reputation for formidable drinking requires no introduction: Australia, the country actually responsible for unleashing bag-in-box wine on the world.

In 1965, the southern Australia winery Angove introduced the low-cost, high-volume format to market. Commonly known as “cask wine” or “goon” (slang for “flagon,” a drink-holding vessel), boxed wine plays a vital role in Down Under culture, though not everyone is keen on admitting as much. “It’s part of the consciousness in Australian drinking. . .at once mocked, celebrated and brought into our humour pathways,” says Australian wine writer Mike Bennie, who attributes his “first great hangover” as a teenager to the stuff.

In Oz, games are closely associated with the consumption of cask wine. The most famous, Goon of Fortune, involves pinning sacks of wine to a rotating outdoor clothesline called a Hills Hoist; players spin the contraption around and whomever the bag stops in front of must drink. “If someone from my generation tells you they haven’t played it, they’re probably lying,” says Ilegal Mezcal’s Stephen Myers, another Australian drinks professional. In addition to echoing Bennie’s takes, Myers points out that goon bags, emptied of hooch and blown up with air, “double up really well as pillows” once your night reaches its inevitable conclusion.

None of the Australians I talked to, each of whom discussed Goon of Fortune with varying levels of life-affirming glee, played any rendition of StB growing up. But there is online evidence of Aussies slapping the goon (tees, too), along with a few vague references to the practice being invented by a guy from Byron Bay. The dates here are pretty much congruent with their American bag-slapping counterparts, meaning it’s basically impossible to conclude which nation physically assaulted a bag of wine first.

Though its true origins may remain murky forever, the inherent appeal of Slap the Bag is not: Every so often, it’s fun to unload. And it’s even more fun when fueled by a stomach full of Sunset Blush.

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