Sunday, April 6, 2008

75th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition

I admit that as a beer blogger, I've messed up and missed some big events, like the passing of renowned beer hunter Michael Jackson and this year's St. Patrick's Day (which I did start and entry and only was able to finish it yesterday). However, tomorrow is a day that I can't, as The Beerocrat, miss: The repeal of the Volstead Act of 1919 on April 7th, 1933, otherwise known as the repeal of the national scourge known as Prohibition.

Many breweries, notably Anheuser-Busch, are hosting a number of events to mark the 75th anniversary. They are planning, among other events, to rebroadcast then-president of AB August Busch, Jr.'s speech on CBS radio that he made the same day President Franklin Roosevelt legalized beer in the 19 states that repealed their own Prohibition laws. Chances are that your local bar, pub, or brewery is having their own celebration to mark the occasion.

However, as with most things involving alcohol, there's some controversy surrounding this day, specifically if this is really the 75th anniversary. Many historians and critics of the beer industry say that Prohibition didn't truly end until December 5, 1933, when Utah ratified the repeal amendment. In spite of that, the fact that any American could have a beer, even 3.2% ABW beer, 8 months before Utah's ratification makes April 7th the start of the decline.

While April 7th is a joyous occasion, it still boggles my mind that we still have the vestiges of Prohibition 75 years on. There are many dry counties, including the county that contains Lynchburg, Tennessee, better known as the home of Jack Daniels. Many states, most famously Utah and Oklahoma, limit which alcoholic products can be sold and what ABV they may contain. Different labeling standards sometimes prevents beer from passing through certain states and counties. The words "last call" prevent people from enjoying a long night out. Some states that are otherwise progressive in their attitudes towards alcohol, like Oregon and Washington, prevent hard alcohol from being sold in grocery stores, relegating them to state-run liquor stores. Then there are the infamous "blue laws," or laws which legislate morality, that prevent people from buying alcohol on certain days of the week, most often Sundays; these are found all over the South, but also as far west as Colorado.

It makes me angry that these laws and regulations still exist, and if you are a freedom-loving American (or really an American that enjoys alcohol), you should hate them too. We as a free society should do everything in our power to overturn these silly, restrictive laws and regulations regarding beer. It's fine with me if you don't drink, just don't tell me what I can and cannot drink and when I can and cannot buy it. The repeal of Prohibition is about freedom, and I will raise my glass to it, and I will dedicate myself to getting rid of these restrictions wherever they exist. I identify more as a Democrat or a liberal, but any politician who stifles alcoholic freedom, regardless of whether they have a -D or an -R after their name, are in my sights.

So raise a glass to the return of freedom, and let's all work to make alcohol more accepted across the entire nation.


My sources:


Bob Skilnik said...

"The repeal of the Volstead Act of 1919 on April 7th, 1933, otherwise known as the repeal of the national scourge known as Prohibition."

There was no repeal of the Volstead Act. The Cullen-Harrison bill merely revise the parameters of the Volstead Act from the definition of a legally "intoxicating" beverage from .05% abv to 3.2%abv.

As a beer guy, you can spin this all day. National Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933. Just ask all the vintners and distillers. Hell, there's probably not a single craft brewer or macro who brews a 3.2% abv today.

Big deal. People were drinking "needle beer" at around 7%for 14 years.

The Beerocrat said...

Hello Bob,

"As a beer guy, you can spin this all day. National Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933. Just ask all the vintners and distillers. Hell, there's probably not a single craft brewer or macro who brews a 3.2% abv today."

First of all, the magic number was 3.2% ABW, or alcohol by weight. This equates to a beer that is 4.0% ABV. Actually, there are still beers by both craft and macrobrewers that brew 3.2% ABW beer, the reason being to sell their product in two states that still have that number as the highest alcohol content a beer can have to be sold in a grocery store: Utah and Oklahoma. Several craft brewers in Utah have beers that meet this amount, and you can bet the big three and all their economy beers (Old Milwaukee, Pabst, Natural Ice, etc.) are proudly on display as "beer" there.

I understand the plight of the vintners and distillers, who had to wait an extra 8 months to sell their alcohol. I enjoy a wine now and then, and I used to be able to pound hard-A when I was in college a couple years ago. But your comments show that you didn't even bother to read the rest of my post, or at least, in your comment, make reference to the reason why I believe that April 7th is the true end of Prohibition. Here is my reasoning spelled out for you.

In the 1920s, people who wanted any alcohol had two options: Drinking the illegal stuff that people made on a small scale in secret distilleries and breweries nationwide at private parties, clubs, or speakeasies, or drinking the legal beer, which had a whopping 0.5% alcohol (not sure if it was ABV or ABW, but my guess is ABW). Beer that was 0.5% ABW wasn't really beer; even today, we give it the name "non-alcoholic beer" or "near beer", but since it's the alcohol content that makes a beer a beer, or a wine a wine for that matter, these half-percenters don't make the cut. However, when the Volstead Act's parameters were revised in April 1933, for the first time in 14 years people could legally drink a 3.2% ABW beer without fear of prosecution. As I mentioned in my post, "the fact that any American could have a beer, even 3.2% ABW beer, 8 months before Utah's ratification makes April 7th the start of the decline." (emphasis added) It was the battering ram that led to allowing higher-ABW beers, wines, and hard alcohol being legally served nationwide. To ignore the Cullen-Harrison Act's relationship to Prohibition and the end thereof is being unfair to history.

And yes, you were right about the different acts and their effects on Prohibition. The Cullen-Harrison Act raised the limit of alcohol that could be sold in beer to 3.2% ABW, and the Blaine Act repealed the Volstead Act in December 1933 when it was ratified by Utah.

Yes, I am a beer guy, or rather, I am an alcohol guy who happens to prefer beer out of all the others. However, was already taken, so I took the name Beerocrat instead. I'm not in the pockets of the beer industry. I don't get fat checks from each of the breweries I review, or the places I shop, or whatever. I haven't seen any of their money, and likely never will out of principle. I don't have ads on my site, and if I ever did, I wouldn't probably be able to control what came up. I just write about beer because I love beer, plain and simple, so of course I stick up for it. For too long beer has had a notion of a simpleton's drink, a drink for the unwashed masses or the blue-collar worker, whereas wine and cocktails are sophisticated, upscale, and for the elite. And for a long time this was true, back when the only beer was Miller, Bud, Coors or an economy beer. In the 1970's and 80's, microbreweries and craft beers came on the scene and demanded that alcohol enthusiasts take them seriously. Nowadays, there are thousands upon thousands of different craft beers available, all with different combinations of malts, hops, and water (a majority also add yeast and other flavorings, but since this violates German purity laws that some breweries follow, not all do). People are pairing beers with food now, at least more often than in the past, and the different styles of beer far exceeds the styles of wine that there are. Beer is again becoming a very sophisticated drink and does not deserve the negative connotations that seem to elude wines and cocktails.

So granted, I do view the repeal of Prohibition through beer goggles, but I try to compensate for that by fighting for the rights of all producers of drinks of an intoxicating nature. The Blue Laws still on the books regulate all alcohol, not just beer; I fight for those to be repealed. I mentioned dry counties, including the one that is home to the Jack Daniels distillery. Did you catch that one? Last call doesn't just apply to beer. I blasted hard alcohol not being sold in grocery stores in Oregon, my home state, and Washington. But all anyone sees is that I'm a beer guy, so what do I know about anything else?

In another comment I mentioned that this is only a hobby of mine. I don't purport myself to be an expert, but I try to be accurate. On the wording of the different acts regarding the end of Prohibition, I have failed. My goal is simply to bring you as much information as I can on what I drink, and I will continue to do so. Take my comments with a grain of salt if you wish, but at least understand where I'm coming from.