Q: This year will be my fifth year coming to Texas from England to tube the Comal River, in New Braunfels. My wife and I are considerate tubers and clean up cans when we see them. However, this was apparently not enough, and now there is a ban on cans on the river. I’m partial to the local Shiner Bock, but considering the new rules can you suggest a good way to drink this beer while tubing the Comal?
Jon Curtis, Eastbourne, East Sussex, England
A: The Texanist, just like millions of his fellow Texans, has taken advantage of the cool and clear waters of the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers more times than he can remember. In the warm months of spring, summer, and early fall, there are few things quite as restorative to the soul as sinking your derriere into an inner tube and casting off for an afternoon on a slow-moving, sun-dappled river. Historically, for tubers of legal drinking age, a cooler full of ice-cold beer has been as critical to floating a river as the tube itself.
But despite the efforts of mindful floaters such as you, your thoughtful helpmeet, and the Texanist, a few tens of thousands of bad apples have spoiled all the fun—or at least created the need for major adjustments to the way the fun is had. Shortly before you first crossed the pond to float the Comal, the City of New Braunfels, in reaction to the annual tons upon tons upon tons of beer cans and other detritus left behind by the less considerate tubing public (more than 100,000 pounds in 2011), enacted a ban on single-use containers—plastic water bottles, snack packages, beer cans, and the like—for folks floating the Comal and the portions of the Guadalupe that run through New Braunfels proper.
The reaction from beer-drinking tubers, river outfitters, area convenience stores, and beer distributors was so swift and vociferous that the matter rapidly ended up in court, where it swirled in a legal eddy for five years. In 2014, a state district judge ruled the prohibition unconstitutional and the ban was lifted. But then, in May 2017, the Third Court of Appeals tossed the suit that brought about that ruling, which paved the way for the reinstatement of the ban last August.
So, yes, you are correct that there is currently a ban on cans on the Comal, which runs its entire course within the New Braunfels city limits and is, in case you were not aware, the shortest navigable river in the United States. Your quest for a good workaround to the can-ban conundrum is not uncommon among would-be floaters. If not from a can, then how, exactly, is a tuber supposed to drink his or her beer or other alcoholic beverage?
The most important thing to note is that the ordinance does not in any way prohibit the consumption of alcohol on the rivers. A person is still welcome to suck down suds to their heart’s content—within limits, of course. That person need only change the mode of delivery, which is the crux of your query.
So, how is this best achieved? The Texanist is happy to report that the legal options are as boundless as one’s imagination. Just so long as a person is carrying and sipping his or her beer from a reusable vessel, the sky is the limit. Giant goatskin bota bag? Sure. CamelBak hydration pack? That works. Two-gallon beverage cooler? Uh-huh. Floating firkin? Absolutely. One popular method seems to be non-glass growlers or similar containers and large stainless-steel cups. FYI, a common growler volume is sixty-four ounces, or four pints, so plan accordingly if you go with this option.
All of this brain racking reminds the Texanist that during the salad days of the late eighties, back when he was tubing much more often than life currently allows, he and his Shiner Bock–loving mates employed an ingenious device known as the Party Ball. The Party Ball, made by the good folks at Shiner, was a nifty hard-plastic sphere that held, if memory serves, about four or five gallons of Bock, had a keg-like pumping device, and was, apparently, way ahead of its time. The Party Ball was great for tubing and would be the perfect remedy for can-ban-confounded rivergoers such as yourself. The Texanist misses the Party Ball.
In lieu of a Party Ball, the Texanist suggests that you consider investing in an actual keg—they are allowed on the river. The size, of course, would depend on just how powerful your fondness for Shiner Bock is. This route is a good one and would allow for nonstop Shiner consumption for the duration of your trip, both on and off the river. You could think of it as a personal (and portable) pub. The decision is yours to make, but the Texanist would be derelict in his duty to not let you know that it is an option. Let him know what you decide. Perhaps he’ll join you for an afternoon.
By the way, the Texanist was aware that floating the beautiful rivers in and around New Braunfels was popular among the local population, but he was not aware that it was a destination for international travelers. Now that he thinks about it, he is not surprised. Welcome to Texas, Jon Curtis and company. Bon voyage to you and yours. And cheers to happy and considerate floating.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.