Beer (& More) In Food

Beer: The Condiment With An Attitude!

April 7th is Not the 75th Anniversary of the End of National Prohibition–News Release

Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 4, 2008

An American History“What was was once a trite beer history canard has become an outright lie,” says beer historian Bob Skilnik. “I can only hope that the apparent rewriting of U.S. brewing history is either an innocent result of poor research and not a shameful display of industry greed, just for the sake of a bump in beer sales.”

(PRWEB) April 3, 2008 — Bob Skilnik, author of “Beer & Food: An American History” (ISBN 0977808610, Jefferson Press, Hardcover, $24.95), argues that industry embellishments and poor research have distorted the true date of Repeal on December 5, 1933, which signified the revocation of the 18th Amendment and the enactment of the 21st Amendment and brought back the manufacture and sale of all alcoholic beverages.

“Congressional events leading up to April 7, 1933 allowed only the resumption of sales for legal beer with an alcoholic strength of no more than 3.2% alcohol by weight (abw), weak by today’s standards. Congress had earlier passed the so-called Cullen-Harrison Bill which redefined what constituted a legally ‘intoxicating’ beverage. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the bill on March 23, 1933. The bill’s passage took the teeth out of the bite of the Volstead Act of 1919 and raised the Prohibition-era legal limit of alcoholic drinks from .05% abw to 3.2% abw.”



5 Responses to “April 7th is Not the 75th Anniversary of the End of National Prohibition–News Release”

  1. jesskidden said

    The wording of the Cullen-Harrison act (as reprinted in newspapers of the day- I’m going by the digitized Syracuse Herald March 15, 1933) was “…all beer, lager beer, ale, porter, and other fermented liquors containing not more than 3.2 per centum of alcohol by *WEIGHT*…” (not “by volume” as you’ve noted above).

    So, using the “ABV = ABW X 1.25” shorthand formula, the permissible alcohol level of “legal beer” of April 7, 1933 (unfortunately) wasn’t really that different from today’s popular beers, when one considers that 3 of the 4 best selling beers in the US, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light, all come in just a few tenths of a percent over Cullen-Harrison’s 3.2 ABW/4.0 ABV. (Most sources list them 4.17-4.20 abv).

    Granted, that contemporary sources found the April 7, 1933 beers being well below the 3.2 abw limit.

  2. Good catch. In the Chicago story a few posts below this one, I had it right,but screwed up the press release. More amazingly, 75,000 hits on press release and no one else noticed.

    It’s been corrected. Thanks.

    You have to realize where the beer that night came from. It was beer that was ready to be dealcoholized. The brewers at the time used to make a big deal about the length of their beers’ maturation…at least one month. The C-H Bill, however, gave them only 2 weeks.

    You can be sure that any beer that was about to be stripped of its alcohol was a beer without the choicest hops or a decent grain bill. What would be the purpose if the beer was going to be stripped of alcohol?

    This became more obvious as the beer continued to flow from the breweries in the later weeks. The public started to complain that the beer tasted “green,” i.e., not mature. I think it was Pabst that started a newspaper campaign that pledged that no beer would leave their brewery until it was ready.

  3. jesskidden said

    I’ve also seen A-B ads apologizing for a lack of supply, noting at the time that they were running the brewery at only 25% capacity and that the regional shortages of the Budweiser were due to beer still aging (at the time, a 3 months lagering period).

    Still, I’ve also read (again, in digitized newspapers, but also in reference books- possibly Baron’s?) of the licensed near beer brewers getting “advance permits” soon after the election in Nov. ’32 in anticipation (by both the brewers and the Prohibition agents) of “real” beer legalization. I agree that those first barrels were probably not up to the pre-Prohibition standards- I wonder if the debate over “2.75 vs. 3.2” might have contributed to that, as well? Were some of the first brews released brewed at a time when the old Wilson-WWI 2.75% limit was anticipated?

  4. Advance permits? I doubt it unless we’re talking immediately after the signing of the Cullen-Harrison Bill. The feds were more worried about figuring out how to and how much to tax beer than worry about beer drinkers and alcohol content of beer, at least that early in this bit of history.

    The post-WW I 2.75% restriction was a result of food control legislation, not really prohibition or temperance. There was, however, a heavily implied attitiude that beer would come back, even before the signing of the C-H Bill. Once again, note that the feds are thinking about nothing more than revenue.

    From my book, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago;

    “Support in Washington for the reintroduction of 3.2% beer began with an opinion by Representative Beck of Pennsylvania that Congress already had the power to legalize beer and that the Supreme Court would more than likely uphold any favorable congressional action. After some political foot dragging, President-elect Roosevelt finally added his opinion to the debate, saying that he favored the 3.2% beer bill that now was pending in the Senate. The Senate continued negotiations on a bill to legalize beer and made no change to a proposal to tax a barrel of beer at the rate of $5, effectively acknowledging the eventual reinstitution of the legal brewing industry. On February 15, 1933, the Senate took the debate even further when it voted 58 to 23 to begin formal consideration of a resolution proposing repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Later that same day, the Senate passed its approval of the Blaine resolution, proposing repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.”

    Also from my Chicago book, it seems the only reason the beers were testing at less than 3.2 was simply fear of pissing off the feds;

    “After years of drinking needle beer with an alcoholic strength of around 7%, some neighborhood beer connoisseurs complained that the new beer didn’t quite have the taste or jolt of illegal brew, an opinion that city officials concurred with. Reports from chemists working under Dr. Herman N. Bundesen, President of the City Board of Health, revealed that veteran Prohibition-era beer drinkers, unhappy with the taste and strength of the legal beer, were probably correct in their criticisms. Even comparative analysis of recently seized home brew indicated that homebrewers were surpassing the 3.2% alcohol limit.

    Doctor Robert Wahl, head of the Wahl Institute, explained that his laboratory was in the process of checking the new beer for taste, effervescence and clarity. Because of the higher alcoholic content that is normally found in darker beers such as a Kulmbacher or Muenchener, Wahl advised that Americans would have to be content with the pale or Pilsner type beers. He noted that research was being conducted at the Institute to develop a dark, flavorful beer that would be under the legal alcoholic content of 3.2% by weight, 4% by volume. In developing such a beer, Wahl mentioned how important it was for the beer to have what the Germans call “suffigkeit”.

    A beer has “suffigkeit” explained Wahl, “when you can drink it all afternoon and still not have enough.” Less filling, taste great?

    Wahl later reported that his tests had indicated that the new beer was indeed disappointing. Out of ten beers analyzed in his laboratory, Wahl deemed only three to be of good quality.”

    I was thinking it was Pabst ho did the full-page newspaper ads “pledging” to FDR that they would release no beer before its time; it was actually Blatz. Below you can see what happened when one brewer said “No more!” to sending out green beer;

    “Louis Schoen was the head brewmaster at Heileman and refused to allow any beer to leave the plant before it was aged nine weeks. Schoen had been a brewmaster for G. Heileman Brewing Co., La Crosse, for 40 years. Heileman’s President, Harry Dahl, was trying to speed up production at the La Crosse brewery and shorten the aging process. Schoen refused to change the aging process and was fired early in 1934.”

    And the beat goes on…

  5. jesskidden said

    I was trying to find some of the newspaper articles that mentioned the advance permits and/or brewing before the signing of the C-H Act but can’t locate them. (The search feature of digitized newspapers leaves much to be desired, I’ve found.) I seem to remember Jacob Ruppert being involved in some of the stories but, being the USBA president at the time, his name pops up too frequently. (Including the little feud with Busch over the “carnival atmosphere” of selling beer at midnight.)

    But, they are mentioned by Baron, pg. 322 in the “Repeal” chapter, and in a recent book on Yuengling (Noon, 2005, pg. 129) “Yuengling was among the many breweries that began preparing for “New Beer’s Eve” by receiving an advance permit for production.” Now, of course, it’s possible that those permits covered only the March 23-April 7 period.

    The 2.75 vs. 3.2% issue is covered briefly in Cochoran’s Pabst book, IIRC.

    An example of the A-B ad I was thinking of can be found here-

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: