The early 1900’s were crazy times in America, from World War I to the Great Depression.
Possibly the craziest idea….banning Americans from drinking booze!
In January of 1919, the federal government, yielding to a tempestuous, vocal group of “no more fun” folks, passed the 18th Amendment and its means of enforcement, the infamous Volstead Act, dramatically altering the alcoholic beverage landscape in the United States of America forever after. The 18th Amendment, a.k.a. Prohibition, went into effect in January of 1920 and prohibited the production, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages.
The rise of illegal activity and the major cultural shift that followed has become the stuff of legend…Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, flappers, speakeasies, “The Great Gatsby”, juke joints, and even boardwalk empires…and continues to influence our culture almost one hundred years later. They didn’t call it the “Roarin’ Twenties” for nothing.
After 13 years of a truly disastrous public policy and enforcement, including the tragic closing of most of the breweries in America, the federal government finally “wised-up”. In March of 1933 Congress passed the Cullen-Harrison Act, making it legal to produce and sell 4% ABV beer and light wines. President Franklin Roosevelt signed the act into law the next day, remarking, “”I think this would be a good time for a beer.” Very smart! It became effective on April 7, 1933…the day we celebrate National Beer Day!
Full repeal of prohibition of all alcoholic beverages did not occur until December 5, 1933, when states ratified the 21st Amendment, a.k.a Repeal Day! However, the excesses and rampant corruption associated with prohibition led Congress to avoid responsibility for almost all alcohol regulation at the federal level. (We will address beer in post-Prohibition America in another post.)
In a move of inspired (and perhaps cowardly) genius, Congress turned over alcohol regulation to the states with the 21st Amendment. This was a big deal! As states considered the mess created by Prohibition, they saw that an alcoholic beverage industry (production, transportation, sale of) controlled entirely by one entity was a problem. As a result, most states drafted regulations designed to separate ownership of production from transport and sale. And the three-tier system (employed by most states today) was born!
It works like this: one tier, the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages, like us (Deschutes Brewery), must sell their beer to a second tier, a.k.a. the distribution tier, who in turn sell the beer to a third tier, retailers, like bars and bottle shops, who are able to sell to consumers. A convoluted path to be sure, yet it has proved conclusively over time (almost 100 years) to be a successful way to manage one of the most contentious, yet popular, consumer goods in the history of the United States. (It should be noted that every state’s system is unique [and sometimes wacky] and systems are constantly tweaked in response to an ever-changing alcoholic beverage landscape).
In celebration of National Beer Day and the prohibition that created it, Amendments 18 and 21, and the three-tier system…cheers to all current beer lovers and all those beer lovers who helped bring America back to its senses back in 1933!
(Author’s note…while most of this story is true, some of it could be made up. Hopefully it was a good story nonetheless)
– By Amos A Amarillo