• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Happy 75th, Near Beer

Those of you who are of a certain age (near mine) and who grew up here may remember being underage but able to drive over to Ohio for the exotic experience of drinking 3.2 beer. You could drink a six-pack and never feel a buzz, but we were young and drunk on the idea of getting drunk, so we "felt" the effects of that Near Beer. Kids of later generations probably did the same thing with wine coolers, the wusses.

But is it possible that 3.2 beer saved the country? FDR was elected by promising many things, one of which was the end of Prohibition. Repealing the Prohibition amendment would be a lengthy process, so Roosevelt asked Congress to ease the country back into intemperance with the legalization of beer. The 18th Amendement had banned "alcoholic" beverages, which were defined as anything containing 5 percent or more of alcohol, so 3.2 beer was a nifty loophole:

Congress heeded the call. On March 22, FDR signed a bill legalizing 3.2% beer. Within two days, brewers in Milwaukee had hired 600 workers. Beer makers in New York announced plans to spend $22 million refurbishing their dilapidated plants. Detroit automakers scrambled to supply brewers and their wholesalers with $15 million in new cars and trucks. In the 48 hours after the beer taps opened April 7, brewers paid $10 million in federal, state and municipal taxes ($155 million in today's dollars).

Beer alone would not undo the economic disaster or heal the nation's spiritual malaise. But at a moment of despair, FDR's words and actions inspired Americans to believe the country could steer a new course. Over the next few months, the president proposed, Congress approved and millions cooperated in implementing a host of innovative (and untested) projects designed to prime the economic pump and get people back to work.

Beer made us believe again! OK, it's a little over the top, but interesting. What will be the next Prohbition lesson we learn? No, not marijuana -- that was never part of the national psyche. I give you, as the economy starts to melT down, John McCain and Barack Obama, both struggling (whIch means ready to relapse at any moment) ex-smokers.


Harl Delos
Tue, 04/08/2008 - 10:36am

You're referring to the Cullen-Harrison bill, which allowed the manufacture and sale of 3.2 beer. It also allowed the manufacture and sale of light wines.

Near beer, however, was available before that. The 18th amendment didn't specify alcohol levels, but the Volstead Act set a limit of 0.5%, and that's the limit that "near beer" complied with.

The justification of the Cullen-Harrison bill was that tests showed that it was impossible to become intoxicated on 3.2% or weaker beer.

Near beer was never very successful. The Diehl brewery in Defiance, for instance, ended up producing evaporated milk. After prohibition ended, they tried to go back into the beer business, but their loyal customers weren't loyal, and they gave up fairly quickly.

Since "near beer" means 0.5%, what do you call 3.2% beer? It's "low-powered beer". In Ohio, it's also called "Sunday beer" because while you could buy high-powered beer (nominally 6%) and malt beverages (nominally 12% alcohol) six days a week if you were 21, on Sunday, only 3.2% beer was available.

Sun, 09/07/2008 - 8:19pm

Harl Delos mentioned on April 8th, 2008 that the Diehl brewery "...gave up fairly quickly" after prohibition. Staying in the beer business 22 years after prohibition hardly seems quick to me. Diehl departure from the brewery industry in 1955 was more attributed to high Ohio taxes and the economic presure from the powerhouses of the industry than not having loyal customers.