Every American Bar, circa April 6, 1933
I was thinking of being all Grumpelstiltskin and point out...again...that this is not "Prohibition Repeal Day" but I thought the better of it. I thought people might say "how expected" or even "ho-hum" or maybe even stoop to use the word "weenie." How could I go on in the face of that sort of mildly abrasive chiding?
No, I thought I would be supportive and accept that - for some - any reason for having a beer on a Monday is reason enough for a celebration. So, I thought I would provide some helpful hints to the more acceptable prudent exercise of your enthusiastic powers through this handy dandy Volstead Amendment Day Guide:
- If you live outside the US, don't bother. It is silly to take on the celebrations of others especially if you and yours were not subject to the lifting of restriction being celebrated. Canadians, for example, pretty much had booze of some sort or another straight through the 20th century and we have to admit that we are the better for it. Why celebrate what we never really lost?
- Only 19 states and Washington DC apparently had the ability to lift the state's ban on beer in time to meet the Federally sanctioned permission to drink 3.2% beer on April 7th, 1933. If you are not in one of those jurisdictions, don't bother. There is no point in having an interest in history if you are not careful with the details. The good folk at Michigan Beer Buzz know this and they are advocating for a session on the date that Michigan got the right to weak beer, May 11th.
- If you live anywhere in a border state near Canada, make sure you you salute the north as you celebrate tonight as 13 years of fine international bootlegging started to come to a close on April 7, 1933 and as many likely lost jobs to the north as gained them to the south. For many, this day was not so much a return to beer for many - just a relocation of the source.
- Be careful in your choice of drinks tonight. There is no point celebrating the return of only weak beer by having something only available months or, in much of America, years later. Further, I can't accept the claims that 3.2% (vbw) beer was somehow the normal beer pre-prohibition. Legally, it is absurd (in the fine sense of that word) as if that is what beer was known to be, it would not need restriction by definition. Further, there are too many sources of good work on the subject showing beer was as strong before 1920 as it is today including this 1994 description of pre-prohibition beer by the ever excellent George Fix. It is more reasonable to consider that 3.2% beer was like the stuff available during prohibition. So find a weak beer and enjoy!
Man in White: "OK, boys: pour the gin in here, the Safe-T-Malt-O-Bev
in here and no one's the wiser!
Cops to Left: "...hum-dee-dum...dum-dee-dum..."
Cop to Right: "Brrrrrooooooom!!!
- Can't find a sufficiently weak beer? Make yourself one! Take a Canadian standard 5% 12 ounce bottle of ale or lager, for example, and add three ounces of tap water. If you are more of the tattooed, black Metallica t-shirt sort of beer drinker (respect, dude) looking at something bigger like a 8% brew in a 22 oz bomber, you should pour in another 22 ounces of water to get your proper Volstead Amendment Day celebratory drink. Yum.
- But, if we are honest, that is pretty much dreaming. Roosevelt announced the raising of the legal limit on 13 March 1933 and, as Bob Skilnik points out, signed the bill only on the 23rd, creating a very forced moment in time:
On March 13, President Roosevelt used the bully pulpit of his office to formally recommend to Congress a looser interpretation of the Volstead Act, which limited alcohol in beer to one-half of one percent. "I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer…" Upon hearing Roosevelt’s recommendation, Governor Horner signed the bill repealing the two State of Illinois dry enforcement laws, now leaving the enforcement of National Prohibition to the federal government.That gave two to three weeks for producers of 0.5% alcohol to turn production around - not to mention deal with their existing 0.5% stocks - and for others to get on stream. What do you bet that plenty of the earliest beer barrels rolled out after 7 April were really 0.5% with a little fortification from the also-soon-to-be-surplus moonshine that was all around in the spring of 1933? I think it is a safe bet so would encourage anyone with a few too many near-beers around to give them a slug of rot-gut whiskey or vodka to recreate the authentic of Volstead Amendment Day beer-like object.