Who the fuck is Billy?
Rebecca Burtonality
Ryersonian Staff
Uploaded on 11/27/2012 5:40:37 PM


Its intoxicating orange sweetness glides its way down your throat. Every sip or chug makes it easier to drink as the pint glass between your fingers becomes your closest companion and your greatest downfall.

For just three toonies or six loonies you can land an inaugural sip. Its sometimes lethal combination will  lead to either a great night or a morning after you’ll want to forget.

Meet the “Billy” – a simple combination of Molson Canadian beer, amaretto and rye, topped up with some bar-gun orange juice.

It’s a potent mixture that is Ryerson’s own off-the-menu cocktail at the Ram in the Rye campus pub. It has undoubtedly claimed itself as one of the most popular drinks on campus.

It might even be argued that more Billys are sold during a pub night than pints of beer.

While drinking a Billy is no doubt a tradition, especially for engineering students, its history remains elusive.

There are traces of the Billy going as far back as 1988, when the Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS) first began.

Photos of engineering students waving the Billy in their hands might be the closest evidence to a written history. 

Third-year engineering student Alex Yamich dates the Billy back to 1993 but couldn’t name the source behind it.

If Googled, the Billy shows up on a host of drink websites, all of which list similar ingredients but varying creation dates. One thing remains unanimous – the Billy is Ryerson’s own.

 “Like most things at Ryerson, history is pretty much lost in history,” said Rob Kipping, a fourth-year computer engineering student. “One thing we know is that the set of ingredients hasn’t really changed that much … it’s an unusual thing that goes together so well.”

The Billy doesn’t have just one name either. Its most commonly referred to by its slang “Billy,” but its official title is the “Flaming Engineer.”

While it’s rare to use the more formal title, it’s the official drink name at campus pub, the Ram in the Rye.

Just last year, a third name was discovered by Yamich.  But “Dr. Boil My Gladiator” is relatively unknown, even with big fans of the drink.

It’s bang-for-your-buck appeal is what drives most students to order the unusual cocktail at the Ram.

For $6, you’re sipping on three-quarters of a beer, and half shots of amaretto and rye, all topped off with orange juice.

A slight alteration to the traditional recipe requires full shots of amaretto and rye, Yamich points out.

Leadner Periera, a fourth-year biomedical engineering student, explains the Billy as “one of those things that, if made right, it’s love at first sight.

“It’s not fizzy like beer, it’s not strong like a shot, it’s the right mix. It just goes down real nice,” he said.

Kipping, who also acted as a former RESS president, has attempted to create his own version of the classic drink which he called, “the Red Willy.” It was the red wine equivalent to a Billy, replacing the beer with red wine, to create a purple-like cocktail.

“(It was) practically gasoline but (it was) delicious,” said Kipping.

The idea never took off and its alcohol levels were deemed too high to legally serve it at the Ram. Kipping adds, “the Billy will forever just be one of those Ryerson things.”

Its roots can be traced back further than its Ram in the Rye days. According to Yamich, the Fuel Station, a pub that once existed at Jarvis and Gerrard, used to host the engineers and their specialty drink.

As did the former Jorgenson Hall watering hole simply called The Pub or the Filling Station. The Filling Station, which opened in 1975, lasted 20 years until it closed.

Even when the Ram began making the drink, Yamich said the powdered orange juice they used to use would sink to the bottom, leaving grimy sediment if you held it in your hand too long.

While the Billy is tied to the Ram by tradition and cheap price, it’s not impossible for a Billy to be obtained elsewhere.

“Other bars will do it, but it’s never going to be mixed right, it’s never going to be priced right,” said Kipping.

Yamich says that other bars charged him as much as $14 for the drink.

“For us engineers, we work pretty hard; you don’t really get the chance to go out,” he said.

The Dundas Street bar, The Imperial, and student-happy Mick E. Fynns have also been known to jump aboard the Billy train.

Periera even ordered one at Jake’s on Main Pub and Grille in Markham but said the price was far too expensive for what he received.

But for some it’s the pride of introducing the drink at other bars, which gives them a kick.

Third-year civil engineer Emily King thinks it’s fun to go to other bars, and say “this is our drink.”

The drink seems synonymous with the engineering program even though it’s just a regular off-menu item at the Ram.

At any time, there’s at least one student cradling a Billy in their hands at the campus pub.

Kipping said it’s just easier to identify the engineers as many of their traditions make them stand out. Take “purpling” during  Frosh,  when engineers are dumped into a pool of purple dye.

For engineers, the drink itself is a model of tradition. Even though the tradition can’t be pinned down in history, for Kipping, it’s the feeling of being part of something bigger.

“You’re going to be joining the ranks of people that have done things the same way for the last 25 or so years. (It’s) pretty interesting,” said Kipping.

Many students’ inaugural sips come during Frosh Week. Frosh leaders pass down the knowledge during “traditions” day, a day that introduces many first-years to  the Billy, the purpling and even those leather jackets you see flooding campus.

Although Billys are available year-round, most engineers look forward to the last Thursday of the month, where they embrace the culture around the campus favourite.

The last Thursday of each month, staff take time off for a meeting. Classes are never scheduled between noon and 2 p.m. — a time better known the as “Enginooner.”

During Enginooners many first-timers will join the ranks of upper-years as they compete in a pseudo Jeopardy game which they call “Super Fun Quiz Machine.”

It’s a tradition that encompasses the Billy. The wacky interactive game began in the late 1990s. The game traditionally used a machine that was attached to engineering hard hats.

When they got a question wrong, they were shocked with buzzers attached to the hats. The buzzers were later eliminated because of the eventual lack of willing volunteers.

The game still sets up the same as it did back then — with three podiums in the front, and engineers required to “tap in” to compete by knocking themselves on the head.

Then competitors respond in a Jeopardy-type fashion. Instead of saying  “What is ....” or “Who is...” and the answer, participants of the ‘nooner say, “Who the fuck is..” or “What the fuck is...” instead.

Yamich says its format is based on the funny questions poised in Celebrity Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live with comedian Will Ferrell as Alex Trebeck.

“There are a variety of categories depending on what I feel like seeing that day. Either ‘eat this, drink this, snort that, lick this, do this dance or do this trick,’” said Yamich who has yet to win an Enginooner.

His wackiest experience was the lengthy hour and a half game that resulted in him undressing himself having to use his feet instead of his hands. In the end, his opposition won for doing a shot of salt.

Now Yamich runs the show as Quiz Master, and holds onto “the bible,” the decaying collection of past quiz questions that Quiz Masters have used over the years and pass on generationally.

King said she won the first Enginooner she ever competed in, which she described as the “Halloween sexy round.”

An Enginooner consists of two Super Fun Quiz Machine rounds. Three players for each round are selected just before the round starts, Kipping explained.

“Sometimes people want to go up, sometimes they’re pre-selected because there are specific categories,” he said.

“You win just like on Jeopardy. You get points for the categories you select if you get the question right. You lose 69 points if you get it wrong.”

Kipping said the points are added up by judges who volunteered beforehand — one judge per contestant.

A student then acts as Wheel of Fortune presenter, Vanna White, during the round to keep track of the categories and point values on the whiteboard.

“It’s a great stress relief, at the end of each month we just get to relax, get fed and watch people make fun of themselves,” said King.

During Enginooners, the Ram is often rearranged to accommodate the 100  to 150 engineers who fill the front section with loud chanting and musical canons.

But unlike many Frosh events that focus on first-years, this event is all about making fun of the upper-years for the enjoyment of the younger crowd.

RESS plans to take the event to the University Of Ontario Institute Of Technology (UOIT) this Friday, in an attempt to introduce the popular game to other schools.

These traditions, though ridiculous at times have a legitimate purpose, said Kipping.

The reason RESS is such a driving force on campus to get students involved actually has a lot to do with accreditation.

The Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board makes it a requirement for engineering schools to not only have a certain amount of classes and hours, but also to have a student society.

“That’s why RESS is such a big thing and why there are so many across the country. It’s because engineers that went to these schools that had strong traditions, realized that’s what made them a well-rounded person,” said Kipping.

And RESS is garnering recognition for its work. Engineering Frosh has on average 150 leaders every year and growing, said Kipping.

Compare this to McMaster, Kipping said, that has far more engineering students but gets only about 30 to 40 volunteers during Frosh.

Kipping has even been invited by president Sheldon Levy to sit on the university’s budgetary review panel on behalf of RESS.

He said the university acknowledged that RESS is a driving force on campus, connecting students to the school.

King said the simplest explanation for these traditions that keep students close to campus is the opportunity for engineers to let loose.

She recalls the experience of her father, who went to school for engineering in the 1970s, “when they got plastered all the time.”

King said the experience has changed a lot since then. “There is a different demographic of students, some that don’t believe in drinking.”

Kipping said, “I want to emphasize that we are not encouraging students to drink and be inappropriate.”

Pereira adds it’s more about the social aspect of the situation; the drinking is just a bragging right.

King agrees. “Obviously it’s everyone’s decision. You don’t have to drink until you puke but every now and then it’s kind of fun to just lose control,” said King. “Because we’re just wound up so tight.”

Steve Jones, a fourth-year biomedical engineering student, said there is definitely a different culture with engineers.

“It’s a good combination of good grades and social experience.” Consuming The Billy he said “(helps people) to get involved in a new sort of social environment.”

Plus, as Kipping said, “If you’re feeling a little under the weather, the OJ (adds) some vitamin C.”


More from Features
Professionals dish on career advice for new graduates

Dillon Lobo talks to successful professionals who give graduating students some advice on making it big in the real world. 

Published on 4/10/2013 2:21:11 PM
An International Affair: Ryerson Travels

The Ryersonian spoke to Sally Coles of Travel Cuts on campus to put together a list of your top five travel destinations. Rebecca Williams and Kathryn Weatherley report.

Published on 4/9/2013 4:35:47 PM
INTERACTIVE: Students could pay a price for Toronto casino

A casino in downtown Toronto might attract young adults who can become addicted to gambling more easily. Jessica Murray reports. 

Published on 4/9/2013 1:38:54 PM
LISTEN: How tech is making its way into Canadian classrooms

From developments at the DMZ to upgrades in classrooms across North America, the way children learn is making a shift. Erica Lenti reports.

Published on 4/5/2013 4:15:11 PM
The DMZ Revolution

Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone promotes young entrepreneurs. Imran Khan looks into how the program builds business.

Published on 4/2/2013 5:24:21 PM
Comments (8)
BK writes:
Just to reiterate and add on what both Zach and KJ said, McMaster Engineering actually has hundreds of students "try out" for the opportunity to participate in Welcome Week.
Zachary Strong writes:
Just to echo the comment made by 'kj', Engineering Frosh Week volunteers st McMaster number between 130 and 140 each year.

I'm looking forward to trying a Billy myself. It sounds interesting!
kj writes:
Incorrect: "And RESS is garnering recognition for its work. Engineering Frosh has on average 150 leaders every year and growing, said Kipping.Compare this to McMaster, Kipping said, that has far more engineering students but gets only about 30 to 40 volunteers during Frosh." McMaster engineering has around 130 volunteers for it's frosh week. Otherwise well written. Kudos.
jeff writes:
so when was it ok to post profanities in the newspaper ? low standard articles written by low standard people with no future
CHOP writes:
where da white women at?
Billy writes:
@Mikes: should be easy these days as the Ram has been skimping out for more than a few years now.
The Angry of Mikes writes:
Most I ever drank was 5 and lets just say I was talking pretty loud after that one. I think I can do 8. Billy Challenge anyone?? Billy Pub Night?? Make it happen - unlimited Billys! I remember I asked a new staff member for one and she just looked at me puzzled. I was just as puzzled.
dr boil writes:
~*~*~* bitchez be jelly of my sweet tastiness *~*~*~
Leave a Comment