Alcohol

Celebrating Repeal Day Under the Vestiges of Prohibition

The era of small-"p" prohibition has persisted for more than eight decades since the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

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Today marks the 81st anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which ended alcohol Prohibition in the United States. Repeal Day, as the date is known to celebrants, recognizes the end of an awful 13-period that came into being after passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

The term "awful" is no overstatement.

"While proponents of Prohibition argued that the amendment would be more effective if enforcement were increased, respect for the law diminished and drunkenness, crime, and resentment towards the federal government ran rampant," notes the official Repeal Day website, which celebrates this date as "a return to the rich traditions of craft fermentation and distillation, the legitimacy of the American bartender as a contributor to the culinary arts, and the responsible enjoyment of alcohol as a sacred social custom."

Though most people alive today never experienced the various woes of alcohol Prohibition, the sad fact is that many unfortunate vestiges of the era remain in place today. This era of small-"p" prohibition has persisted for more than eight decades since the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

Examples of tight alcohol rules in the post-Prohibition ebra are found around the country, and at all levels of government. Such rules include outright bans—clear vestiges of Prohibition. There are at least 200 "dry" counties in America today in which alcohol is banned (or, in the case of "moist" counties, severely restricted).

Massachusetts bans "happy hour" alcohol specials. Utah's so-called "Zion curtain" prohibits many bartenders from pouring drinks in view of consumers. As recently as last year, it was illegal to brew your own beer in two states. The federal government banned Four Loko in 2010 and—just this year—Maryland banned Everclear. And the federal government continues to prohibit home distillation of spirits from absinthe to bourbon to vodka.

That's a long list of inexcusable bans. But the news isn't all dire. Ongoing deregulation efforts since the late 1970s have slowly given hope to producers and consumers alike.

The year 1979 saw the network television debut of the Dukes of Hazzard, a show celebrating the exploits of a pair of modern-day, semi-reformed moonshiners. Less than a week after the show first aired, a bill signed by Pres. Jimmy Carter that deregulated home brewing of beer—which had been illegal since Prohibition—took effect.

With the ban lifted, home brewers began to re-diversify America's beer industry, kickstarting what has become nothing less than a craft beer revolution in America.

Craft beer sales have boomed in recent years. In 1990, less than one percent of sales were attributed to small producers. Today, nearly 8 percent of domestic beer sales are attributable to craft beer, which now represents almost the same percentage of overall beer sales in this country as imported beer sales did in the late 1990s. This has helped small brewers proliferate. Recent Census Bureau data show that the number of breweries in America doubled between 2007 and 2012.

The rise of craft beer and decline in market share of big producers "is actually a story of the triumph of a liberalized marketplace, of decentralization and deregulation," writes Kyle Smith in a recent New York Post column.

But craft beer's growth at the expense of large brewers only tells part of the story. After all, craft beer still accounts for a small percentage of overall beer sales.

It's light beers made by large brewers, including the national bestseller, Bud Light, that have supplanted old favorites like Budweiser (which is now merely the Prince of Beers). Six of the top seven beers in America are mass-produced light beers.

The beer industry is a huge economic engine. Data from the Beer Institute, which represents America's larger brewers, show America's 2,800 brewers lead a $246.5 billion industry that's responsible for more than 2 million jobs, $79 billion in annual worker wages and benefits, and the purchase of more than $850 million each year in raw agricultural materials from U.S. farmers.

But high state and federal taxes continue depress the market for craft and mainstream beer alike.

The Beer Institute likes to note that beer is "4.6 percent alcohol by volume, 40 percent tax." Two bills in Congress recently sought to reduce taxes paid by brewers, costs that are ultimately passed on to consumers.

"In human history," alcohol and Prohibition historian Garrett C. Peck told The New York Times recently, "there has never been a better time to be a drinker."

That may be true. But for every story of deregulation—such as the successes that recent deregulation of spirits has fostered—there are alarming examples of backsliding.

I think there are three simple premises that—if embraced by federal, state, and local lawmakers—could improve the climate Peck cites even more. 

  1. Deregulation has brought great benefits. But more needs to be done.
  2. Bans and strict rules don't benefit consumers.
  3. Alcohol producers should be subject to the same low taxes, regardless of the type of alcohol beverage or size of the producer.

Until lawmakers embrace these premises, the awful vestiges of Prohibition will persist. And clinking glasses on Repeal Day—while worthwhile—will continue to make for a somewhat dissatisfying toast.

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54 responses to “Celebrating Repeal Day Under the Vestiges of Prohibition

  1. I’m getting tired of IPAs. It’s not that I don’t like them, but do they have to take up half the beer list, especially when many aren’t that good? I want more variety with my variety!

    1. It’s Stout season!

      1. I wish. It still is getting into the 50s in Virginia. It’s fucking December. I miss snow. I keep hoping climate change will alter weather patterns enough that we’ll get real winter. Alas, I am disappoint.

        1. MEh it doesn’t get really cold here till January or February. off the back of my head I’d say we got most of our big snow here in march.

        2. I agree. 75 on Monday in Richmond was nice, but I’d like some snow, which equals day off of work for me. With a day off I can brew a batch of Porter.

      2. It is always stout season!

        1. Yes. I know I’m late, but I have to agree. It is always stout season.

      3. Slainte!

    2. I remember a professor in college (late 1970s) who admitted that he was newly impatient with having to wait 3 minutes for a microwaved baked potato, as opposed to 10 years earlier when it took forever to bake a potato.

      These new micros popping up everywhere is just a heavenly, concrete reminder that lack of regulation is fantastic. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, quit complaining!

      1. quit complaining

        You can say this to a libertarian with a straight face?

    3. I really like IPAs, its my go to beer unless its really cold outside, but I agree. Some are just terrible and a lot of brewers are going overboard trying to cram as many hops in as they can instead of making the best tasting beer. Triple IPAs, double doubles, why don’t they just sell a bowl full of hops and I can pour some water over it and eat it like cereal.

    4. Drinking IPA is some kind of badge of honor to show you’re a “true” beer drinker.

  2. When I was living in Montreal I would enjoy telling people that American beer was the best in the world. The reactions were always good. One day a professor overhears me and took particular offense. He had lived in Germany a while. The beer he thought came closest to good German beer? Yuengling. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a Pennsylvania native and Yuengling is the beer I grew up on. For cheap beer it is still my go to. But if you think that’s the best America has to offer, you need to get out more. And so it with the European love. They make some good beer, especially the English, but like most things European, they’ve been in stagnation for 100-200 years.

      1. I see your Pilsner Urquell, and raise you one Victory Prima Pils.

        1. I’ll have to check it out, though I may not find it. All booze in this state goes through a legal cartel, and if the cartel doesn’t carry it, it cannot be purchased in the state.

          1. It’s a PA beer but it has good distribution on the east coast.

            1. And in TX. It’s good. Pilsner Urquell is better, but PU doesn’t travel worth a shit. Not sure why.

              It’s a great time to be alive if you like beer.

              I’d love to see the mandatory 3 tier system scrapped. Retailers will still need wholesalers, there just won’t be a monopoly forcing you to use one. I don’t know why I can go online, order handgun ammunition—hell, order the handgun itself, provided I’m in the same state—have it sent to me no problem, but I can’t do the same for alcohol without a giant PITA. Assuming I can get it at all.

              1. There’s a lot of money in alcohol, and the government is going to make sure it goes in to their hands and the hands of their cronies. Freedom!

        2. I’ll call with Oscar Blues Mama’s Yellow Pils.

          1. Firestone walker pivo pils is on that same level.

      2. Went through a big Pilsner Urquell phase for a half dozen years or so. On a Full Sail Session kick these days.

    1. I was disappointed in the beer I had in London 4 years ago. English ale was what I liked. But after literally dozens of pubs and dozens of brands, I had to conclude that American beer beats English now.

      1. Is probably agree. I still like English bet better than continental most of the time.

    2. The whole Germany – Beer cliche is tiresome. Their purity laws just stuck them in the mud while the rest of the world innovated. They need to check their hops privilege!

      1. German beer is generally garbage, it’s probably the worst Eurotrash beer.

        America produces the best beer, period. Our mass-produced beer is better than the European equivalent (think Heineken or Becks) and our regional and local micro-brews are better than anything available in Europe.

        1. The swill Heineken ships to America should be cause to kick out the Dutch ambassador.

        2. While I certainly agree that today we’re producing the best beers in the world, our mass-produced swills are as disgusting as anything brewed anywhere. Bud-Light, Miller, Keystone and the rest amount to nothing more than dank water capable of producing a head.

    3. Yuengling is my go to for cheap beer. I went to school in Ohio and it was like gold there since it was hard to come across. I would bring a few cases of it with me to school. It was easy to get tired of Natty light and Keystone.

  3. I have too many sealed bottles of alcohol lying around the apartment. If I didn’t have an Imperial Examination Tomorrow*, I’d be thinking about having a sampler night. I just made it worse by picking up Hard Cider and Meads (2) of varieties I’ve never tried before. For someone who’s practically a teetotaler, I own a lot of booze.

    (*Civil Service Exam, To let me steal more of Restoras and Ted S.’s monies).

    1. The Libertarian Wife just brought home a pile of ciders, both apple and pear. It’s 8am here. I’m on vacation. I will be drunk well before noon.

      Oh, and there’s Het Anker and then there’s everything else.

      1. Let me know if there are any really good dry ones in there – I love a good cider, but I prefer the drier varieties (Dry Blackthorn is my go-to). I’d love some good recommendations!

  4. I have some winter wheat that I brewed that is almost ready for sampling.

    And yesterday I finished the last bottle of Black IPA.

    I used to be in the anti-IPA camp, but I’ve been experimenting with more hoppy beers and there are some good ones out there. It’s local, but their is a Grapefruit IPA made by Perrin Brewery that is delicious.

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  6. I’ve come to favor cider recently.

    This winter I’ve been making a quick style of cider.
    Ferment a gallon of store bought cider (no preservatives please) at 60-70F for 4 or 5 days, chill for 24hours, then move it to a fresh carboy, keep it chilled and enjoy immediately.

    Its cheap, tastes incredible, and is far less labor intensive than beer.

    1. What a coincidence. Not only have I independently arrived to basically the same conclusions, but just got back home from buying five gallons of cheap sale price cider to put into fermentation this afternoon.

      1. Are you planning to inhibit further fermentation after the primary fermentation period is over?

        Cold storage works for the 1 gal batches since it takes me only a couple weeks to drink. I’d be kind of worried the other 4 gallons would get to be very dry and harsh.

        Of course I’m being very unscientific in my process since I’m not testing gravity before or after. For all I know maybe they’ve already converted 98% of the sugars in those 4 or 5 days.

    2. Did you add any yeast at all (and if so, what?), or just rely on the natural bugs?

      I’m glad that someone brought up cider, the original American drink. More cider means more interesting apples! (Which I write as a crunch a roxbury russet.)

      1. I’m using a champagne yeast, Lalvin EC-1118

        For the cider I’m using Hay’s Orchard Cider which I pick up from Costco. Its basically pressed from the apples then pasteurized. No water, sugar, or anything else added to it.

        Being unscientific about it, I’m just eyeballing the amount of yeast I use, since a whole package would be too much for a 1 gal batch.

        I do give the yeast a head start by adding it to a cup or two of cider warmed to around 95-100F for a few hours.

        1. Ok, that all starts to make sense now.
          The natural yeasts and bacteria are supposedly quite slow (when present at all), but I’ve read a lot (mostly good!) about using champagne yeast for controlled fermentation. Giving it a bit of heat to kick start it sounds like a good idea too.

          I’m still a couple of years out from harvesting my own apples, but looking forwards to it. Stay tuned!

  7. Fucking proofreading, how does it work?

    1. This is one of the most poorly-written articles I’ve read in a very long time.

  8. “Today marks the 81st anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,..”

    Sweet! No need to invent an excuse to drink today.

    1. Sweet! No need to invent an excuse to drink today.

      You need an excuse? I just need a beer.

      1. I’ll drink to that!

  9. What a mess.

  10. Given Montana’s abysmal history concerning prohibition it’s a little surprising the sale of 190 proof Everclear is still tolerated.

  11. 4:30 is BEER:30 at my office. So I have that to look forward to this afternoon. It’s really the only reason to stay that late on a Friday.

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  13. As a Pennsylvania resident and wine enthusiast (some might say wino), this really is a bittersweet day. In PA of course, there’s strict State control over liquor and wine sales, and all stores are run by the state. Beer is sold through distributors who have been essentially granted cartel status by the state. The result is that shopping for liquor or wine is a humiliating, depressing experience. I often use small Russian phrases with the sales clerks. The State Store system is wrong, offensive, anti-American, terroristic, disgusting, insulting, patronizing, paternalistic, utterly immoral, corrupt, and predatory, just to use a few choice terms.

    The best part is that the State actually loses money at the expense of consumer choice, the protestations of politicians notwithstanding.

    I visit Target stores in certain other states, see a wall of booze and think “What an enlightened, advanced race of people inhabit these lands.” You cannot even buy alcohol in any form in the supermarkets. This is a particularly insidious and intolerable form of state oppression.

  14. The people republik of Taxachussets isn’t much better. Not state stores, but due to a law that no one entity may own more than x (x=6, I think) alcohol outlets, no chain supermarket bothers to carry anything.

  15. That is due to the fact that we are the various “United States” of America and not simply “America”. The counties of the United States remain free to choose whether to prohibit drug sales or public consumption because this affects the safety of the local public. I think this is like Federalism.

    I voted against banning “prohibition” across Arkansas because I grew up in a “dry” county and live in a county that is “soaking wet”. Counties are local and I would not presume to tell another county how to live because another county affects me only slightly more than another planet.

  16. When it comes to pot many against Prohibition tout taxes as a reason.

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