Vice Squad
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Beer During Prohibition

Beer sales were illegal during national alcohol prohibition in the US, of course. Well, except for near beer, which had a level of alcohol below the Volstead Act's .5 percent limit. (Near beer is produced by making beer, and then removing the alcohol; hence, legal near beer provided various obvious channels to evade the Prohibition rules.) But there is another sense in which beer sales were not illegal during Prohibition -- at least part of Prohibition. Between April and December 1933, full strength (3.2 percent) beer sales were legal, although Prohibition was still in force. The freshly inaugurated President Roosevelt had Congress amend the Volstead Act, to redefine those illegal "intoxicating liquors" as containing more than 3.2 percent alcohol. So the brewers got an 8-month jump on the distillers in re-entering the legal market. Not everywhere, though -- state dry laws or a dearth of implementing legislation delayed the return of beer in a majority of states.

Last week saw the 75th anniversary of the return of legal beer to the US. The event was marked in the Los Angeles Times through an op-ed by Maureen Ogle. One can learn a lot about beer and beer history from her blog; here are the beer-related posts. Thanks to Alcohol and Drugs History Society for the pointer.

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