“New Beer’s Eve”

Happy “New Beer’s Eve!” (Well, a bit belated).  75 years ago yesterday, April 7, beer started flowing legally in America for the first time in 14 years. Under the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, all “alcoholic” and “intoxicating” beverages — defined by the Volstead Act as substances containing more than 0.5% alcohol — were banned.  While the amendment to repeal Prohibition was brewing before Franklin D. Roosevelt stepped into office, ratification was still months away, and the president decided that it was time to take an important first-step towards repeal. The Cullen-Harrison Act raised the threshold of alcohol “intoxication” from 0.5% to 3.2%, thereby permitting the sale and consumption of 3.2% beer — the only alcoholic drink permitted for the next 8 months. 

 Beyond representing a victory of “wets” over “drys,” the legalization of 3.2% beer helped moderate what had become an excessive and reckless use of alcohol by the American public under Prohibition. Bathtub gin in underground speakeasies was replaced by beer in public gatherings, and a covert and corrupt production network by a regulated industry offering economic and employment benefits.  The result? An era of greater responsibility and a healthier national attitude towards alcohol.

Sound familiar? We have a lot to learn from 3.2% beer today, as 18 to 20 year-olds face a modern-day prohibition. Surely, the majority of them continue to drink, but their behavior, like that of their counterparts under the 18th Amendment, has become reckless, excessive, and geared towards the product that is most readily accessible and potent to them — hard liquor.  The act of “pre-gaming” with shots of vodka in basements or dorm rooms has become the norm, as young adults no longer have access to public gatherings where alcohol is served in moderation. Parents and educators lose their capacity to educate young adults about the risks and rewards of drinking, and as a result, the instructor role has been transferred to fraternity brothers and college roommates — hardly pillars of moderation. Further, as in the 1920s and 1930s, enforcement is lax, helping to breed disrespect for law.

 Americans in the 1930s realized that laws must reflect reality, and that safety and moderation are more important than lofty yet unattainable social experiments. It is for this realization that we celebrate April 7, 1933 and continue to work to find our own equivalent middle ground of 3.2% beer.

 Interested in learning more? Try these.

Los Angeles Times


One Response to ““New Beer’s Eve””

  1. Casey Says:

    The following link has a good article on the debate, and gives facts that are withheld by some groups.