On Sunday, at a minute past midnight, beer lovers can celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which re-legalized “3.2 beer” in the United States. The act of Congress, which raised the upper limit of what was considered “non-intoxicating,” was the first step toward outright repeal of Prohibition, which occurred later in 1933 with the passage of the 21st amendment.
As soon as the new law took effect, the nation’s surviving breweries were ready, with trucks at the ready filled with cases and barrels of beer. Within 24 hours, more than 1.5 million barrels of beer had been distributed. Several of those barrels went straight to the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
The latest Examiner.com column by Charlie Papazian poses an intriguing question: what if the 18th Amendment, which imposed national Prohibition, never became law?
If Prohibition never happened, we wouldn’t have had bathtub gin or speakeasies, the U.S. Treasury would have continued to take in millions in excise taxes, and gangsters like Al Capone would have been forced to find some other industry. And millions of Americans wouldn’t have had to break the law to enjoy an adult beverage.
But Papazian also sees a downside to Prohibition never happening. Lawmakers might not have outlawed “tied houses.” That, plus inevitable consolidation of the industry, could have created a barrier to entry so high that small breweries would struggle to survive. Without distributors, small brewers would have little chance of getting their product on the shelves and into bars. And if big brewers pushed huge quantities of cheap beer, a backlash leading to high taxes and tough restrictions might have occurred.
The ultimate question Papazian asks is, “If there was no Prohibition would we have today’s 2,400 small breweries?”
Seventy-nine years ago today the 21st Amendment became part of the Constitution. But did it really undo the damage wrought by Prohibition, and the forces that made the “Great Experiment” possible?
In 2008, historian Maureen Ogle wrote an op-ed in USA Today in which she contended that Americans never stopped demonizing alcohol. Here’s her take on what happened after 1933:
States, counties, and municipalities burdened manufacturers and retailers with complicated licensing requirements. Lawmakers separated manufacturers from the public by inserting distributors between the two. A welter of laws restricted the hours and days that people could buy drink. New state-owned liquor stores oozed the “alcohol is evil” message….Children who accompanied their parents on those trips got the intended message: This stuff is bad!
She concludes, “Put another way, repeal institutionalized the demonization of alcohol.”
If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you’ve read Daniel Okrent’s Last Call and watched Ken Burns’s documentary, Prohibition. If you enjoyed them, Ludwig insists that you consider a trip to Philadelphia.
Beginning October 19, the National Constitution Center will present an exhibition titled American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. The exhibition, which will be curated by Okrent, is described as the first comprehensive exhibition about Prohibition. It will trace the “Great Experiment” from the dawn of the temperance movement in the early 19th century to the ratification of the 21st Amendment in 1933.
American Spirits will run through April 28, 2013, after which it will go on a three-year nationwide tour.
No, the Diet of Worms isn’t something contestants eat on a reality show. It was an imperial assembly that, on this date in 1521, condemned Martin Luther for his attacks on the Catholic Church. According to some accounts, Luther prepared for his appearance before the Diet by drinking strong beer.
And now…The Mash!
We begin in York, England, where the Campaign for Real Ale branch plans to visit every pub in the area and log every beer available. They hope to top Sheffield CAMRA’s record of 257 Real Ales logged.
Scott Jennings has been named the head brewer at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s North Carolina plant, scheduled to open in 2014. Scott has been with Sierra Nevada since 2001.
Philly Beer Week opens a week from today, and three of the city’s breweries have brewed a collaboration beer for the occasion. It’s a Belgian black ale that packs a 7.6% alcoholic punch.
An item from our Don’t Do This at Home Department. A gentleman in Russia used a chainsaw to open a bottle of beer.
Some Colorado brewpubs are approaching the legal production limit. A bill that would raise the limit died in the legislature, forcing brewpubs to consider becoming production breweries or moving part of their operations out of state.
Surely you’ve seen those photos of men carrying “We Want Beer” picket signs. They’re from a parade in New York City that took place in May 1932. An estimated 100,000 opponents of Prohibition marched.
Finally, Arnold Worldwide, a Boston-based ad agency, has installed Arnie the Beer Vending Machine, which dispenses custom-brewed beers. Management installed Arnie to encourage office sociability.
Today is 4:20, an unofficial holiday celebrating the use of marijuana. Legend has it that 4:20 originated with a group of California high school students in the early 1970s. Why do we mention marijuana on a beer blog? Because Paul is old enough to remember signs in college-town bars that read “Keep Off the Grass…Drink Schlitz.” And he still prefers beer.
And now….The Mash!
We begin in Monmouth, Oregon, which was dry from its founding in 1859 until 2002. A local minister warned of disaster if townspeople allowed alcohol to be sold, but little has changed in the past decade.
An infographic making the rounds of the Internet makes the case (no pun intended, really) for craft beer in cans. (Hat tip: Jack Curtin.)
Evan Benn, who writes about beer at, among other places, Esquire magazine, has hit the stores and lined up the best beers of 2012. These are definitely not the same-old, same-old.
The May edition (number 63!) of The Session will be hosted by Pete Brown. This month’s topic is open-ended: “The Beer Moment”. Brown asks, “[W]hat comes to mind? Don’t analyze it–what are the feelings, the emotions?”
Cor blimey! “Exclusive pouring rights” at the London Summer Olympics have been awarded to Heineken, which forked out £10 million ($15.6 million U.S.) for the privilege.
Joe Stange, the Thirsty Pilgrim (and the author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers) has an update on the beer scene in the Belgian capital.
Finally, a brewery in Calgary is taking advantage of the Canadian government’s decision to phase out the penny. It’s offering to exchange a growler full of beer for a growler full of the soon-to-be-obsolete one-cent pieces.
Last month, Ludwig blogged about a brewing history exhibit in New York City this summer. He learned about it in a New York Times story about friendly rivals George Ehret and Jacob Ruppert, who opened breweries during the 1860s.
Ehret and Ruppert, both the children of brewers, set up their establishments on East 92nd Street. By 1877, Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery was the largest in the country, and Ruppert wasn’t far behind. Both expanded their operations to cover most of the four blocks from 90th to 94th Street, from Third to Second Avenue. They competed for customers through saloons, and even owned some–a practice that was legal in pre-Prohibition times. Nevertheless, the two men were the friendliest of rivals. Like today’s craft brewers, the beer barons of the 19th century functioned like an extended family. In fact, members of the Ehret and Ruppert families even intermarried.
Prohibition put an end to the Hell Gate brewery. Ehret died in 1927; and two years later, his family threw in the bar towel and closed the brewery. Ruppert died in 1915 leaving his son, also named Jacob, in control of the brewery. Jacob, Jr., is better known for buying the New York Yankees, signing Babe Ruth, and turning the team into a dynasty. After Repeal, he reopened his brewery, but also ended up a victim of hard economic times, World War II, and post-war consolidation. The Jacob Ruppert Brewery shut its doors in 1965.
It has been nearly eight decades since the 21st Amendment repealed national Prohibition, but a number of American communities continue to ban alcohol. There are 200 “dry” counties across the country, and numerous communities in “wet” counties are themselves dry. Most of these are in the South and border states, where many residents consider alcohol sinful. In fact, anti-alcohol sentiment goes back to the Civil War. Many southerners argued that they lost the war, but were still morally superior to booze-drinking Yankees.
Lingering Prohibition caught the attention of the BBC, which reported Williamsburg, Kentucky’s vote to approve the sale of alcohol in restaurants. The business community argued that lifting prohibition would create jobs and attract tourists. Church leaders countered that condoning alcohol was not only immoral but would create social problems. Both sides agreed, however, that Williamsburg has a problem with drugs like methamphetamine and Oxycontin, which are even more profitable than the region’s legendary bootleg whiskey.
Today Swedes and Finns celebrate the Feast of Saint Knut, which marks the end of Christmas season. Years ago, men celebrated by dressing as Nuuttipukki, an evil version of Santa Claus, and wandering from house to house demanding food and especially alcohol. Ludwig recommends enjoying a beverage at home instead.
And now…The Mash!
We begin in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, which wants to bring back the good old days at county parks by inviting vendors to set up beer gardens.
To celebrate the 2012 London Olympics, Camden Town Brewery is re-creating Elephant Ale, which was brewed and drunk in London in 1908, the last time the city hosted the Games
Rap star Ludacris is about to open his Chicken and Beer restaurant in Concourse D of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. It’s named after his third album.
Don’t you wish you had a convenience store like this in your neighborhood? A Super Deli Mart in West Seattle not only stocks hundreds of beers, but serves some of the West Coast’s rarest beers on draft.
Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin takes aim at Consumer Reports‘ ratings of mainstream beers. His complaints? The magazine limited its review to mainstream products, and gave good ratings to lousy beers.
Finally, Louisiana State University has punted on partnering with a local brewery to honor the 1958 football team because the beer would violates Collegiate Licensing Association guidelines.