Monday, April 7, 2008

New Beer's Day: celebrate with a session beer!

Is today the 75th anniversary of Repeal? Not really: April 7, 1933 was when changes to the Volstead Act laws took place and redefined the level at which beer became "intoxicating" as 3.2% ABW instead of 0.5%. The 21st Amendment, ending national Prohibition, wasn't ratified until December 5th, 1933. On top of that, only 19 states and DC had laws in place to handle beer sales on 4/7/33, so it was hardly the national death of Prohibition. Of course, if you wanted wine or spirits, Prohibition was still in place for 8 more dry months.

But you know, the people who are whining and kvetching about this not being the 75th anniversary of Repeal remind me of those Millennium Weenies who went around the last half of 1999 telling everyone they could grab that January 1, 2000 was not the first day of the new Millennium!! Well, no, it wasn't...technically. But no one cared, because everyone saw the big odometer roll over from 1999 to 2000.

Likewise, no one really cared in 1933, because they were all so excited that they could legally get beer, real beer from real breweries, even if it was only 3.2%. In the words of a Wisconsin radio reporter (quoted as part of Maureen Ogle's nicely done run-up to April 7), 3.2% beer "is all that has been promised -- and more. It is agreeably surprising," containing both the flavor and "stimulation" of lagers brewed during the "pre-drought days."

Well, of course it was. It was session beer, right? 'Who wants to drink 3.2 beer?' some of the Repeal nit-pickers ask, with an implied sneer. Well, I do. I'd love a drinkable 3.2% lager beer, or a nice mild or bitter. Which I think is a great way to celebrate this day, the day Americans got legal beer back. Seems like a real Session Beer Project way to do things.

11 comments:

Kevin said...

Perhaps we should all go down to the General Lafayette for their wonderful Lafayette's Escape (1.8%). I hope they still have it on tap.

Stan Hieronymus said...

And a good day to drink Utah beer. Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale, for instance.

Anonymous said...

Not that it results in a huge beer but 3.2% is measure by weight not volume.

While in the UK I had a couple of Brits slag off on the low alcohol of American beers being only 3.2% when I pointed out that 3.2% ABW was pretty close to their London Pride 4.1% by ABV they refused to believe it!

Alan said...

Weenies? Please. This is clearly one of the darkest day in Canadian brewing if the words of one brewing executive of the time is to be trusted:

We have no knowledge or interest in the prohibitory laws of the United States," the vice-president of Windsor's British-American Brewery Company told a writer for Ladies Home Journal in 1923. "We believe we are privileged to fill orders for shipments of beer to the United States, even if it is illegal for citizens of the United States to have beer.

Agents for freedom, that what those airlifting Canadian brewers were. Angels of mercy more like it...

Lew Bryson said...

It is 3.2 ABW; just wanted to make sure of that, and I did. Must have cleared that just about the time you left your comment. But...Brits never believe anything about American beer.

Lew Bryson said...

Alan, you misunderstand me most grievously! I salute these brewing (and distilling: hail Windsor Canadian!) Freedom Fighters!

I only meant to tag the folks who get their beer panties in a twist about this day not being the anniversary of Repeal. Of course it's not, but it's a very significant anniversary nonetheless, and most significant -- as you point out -- for beer. We can very much agree on that, I think.

Alan said...

Yes, we defintely agree - and I would expect a toast to the beer freedom fighters in the northlands would not be out of place in any of the south of the border celebrations.

Lew Bryson said...

I've seen the numbers in a variety of sources, Sandy, but nothing I can reach out and touch.

Hmmm... There's this from Encarta online: "Statistics show that Prohibition reduced the annual per capita consumption from 9.8 liters (2.6 gallons) of absolute alcohol during the period before state laws were effective (1906-1910) to 3.7 liters (0.97 gallons) after Prohibition (1934)." That's the kind of dramatic number I've seen. The problem, of course, is that you can't really get any hard numbers during Prohibition -- who would have been keeping the numbers? But the difference in legal consumption between pre- and immediately post-Prohibition is pretty dramatic.

Ben said...

I have a question for any prohibition experts: My father has told me that my grandfather made wine during prohibition and they were permitted to do so, to a certain extent. was there a loophole in the law that anyone knows of? Or was it just that stupid laws can't keep tradition in check?

Lew Bryson said...

Ben,
There were a couple small loopholes in Prohibition law. For one, making "farm cider" was legal, something that always infuriated H.L. Mencken, who had built up an image of rural puritans denying decent urban types the pleasures of beer and strong drink in the name of temperance while sitting around the cider barrel, cackling at their slyness. Prohibition also didn't prohibit the production of what were essentially food items: malt syrup, hop essence, yeast cakes, and concentrated grape must. These products often came with warnings on their labels along the lines of "Please do not perform the following procedures--" followed by a step by step guide to using the product to make beer or wine, "--because this would create WINE/BEER, which would be in violation of the Volstead Act." Much like the "for entertainment purposes only" warnings you see on video poker games in PA bars that everyone ignores. There were exceptions made for sacramental wine for Christians and Jews.
But there was not any exemption for home production of wine for straight-up home consumption. I suspect your granfather was probably carefully following the instructions the grape companies so thoughtfully provided...and maybe sharing with carefully chosen friends. A LOT of home booze-production took place; still does. There are "wineries" in basements all over South Philly.

Ben said...

Thanks, Lew, for the insight. My grandfathers "winery" was in Wayne, PA, as is my dad's to this day. We weren't ALL from South Philly!
It seems possible that this is when it became common practice among Italian immigrants to use table grapes like thompson seedless to make wine with. They had to use what they could get!