I’m reposting my article from five years ago in commemoration of the amended Volstead Act on this day at 6pm.
It’s Thursday, May 11th 1933 at 6pm. What would you as a beer drinker be doing? Most likely waiting in line to buy your first legal beer in Michigan for 15 years. Since the beer law was signed on April 7th, the state was preparing for this moment. Trucks and trains full of beer had been delivered to warehouses around the state for the sale of 3.2 beer. Yes, in spite of Michigan being the first state to repeal the 18th amendment on April 10, 1933. You could not sell beer until May 11th. Detroit got its first taste of legal beer on May 10th. One hundred and fifty barrels went on sale that night at a special charity ball by the American Legion. Now, it was the rest of the state’s turn.
Tax on the sale of beer was not the only way the government made money. License fees also brought in revenue to the state. While beer sat in warehouses, license seeking business owners like bar owners, retailers, restaurants hotels and clubs lined up at government bureaus hoping to get one before the flag dropped on selling of beer. In Escanaba the licenses were actually flown in by airplane to insure that beer could be sold on May 11th.
Most Detroit breweries would not have their beer ready till late June or early July. One exception was Stroh’s. They were prepared for selling their beer. They had 15 to 20 thousand cases ready to compete against the out-of-state breweries. In spite of breweries from other states and Canada pouring in shortages were expected.
Why did it take so long after the U.S. government amended the Volstead Act to make 3.2 beer legal? Obviously, Michigan wanted alcohol to be legal. The state was the first to repeal the 18th amendment on April 10th. It was basic government bickering over how to legislate beer. They didn’t want the problems that they had before prohibition. Also, the business had been ran by the mob for the last 15 years and they needed that to be addressed. Unfortunately, what they created was a lot of bureaucracy that is still handcuffing breweries in this state today.
Here is just a sample of the new laws enacted. Beer must be sold to a customer seated at a table. There is no free beer with food, no curb service, no free lunch and no gambling, drunkenness or idling on the premises. All packages must have the state tax stamp put on before it is turned over to retailers. No sales between the hours of 2am and 7am. No wholesaler or brewery can make deliveries to homes. The last law mentioned still hurts MI’s brewing and wine industry today. One thing of interest was that the drinking age was 18.
The May 12, 1933 Monroe Evening News reported that sales were disappointing here in Monroe. I blame Ohio. They had legal 3.2 beer on April 7th. In Detroit though the party was big. Woodward Avenue was the scene of a party that was compared to an holiday parade. Fortunately, there were only 15 arrests.
So this May 11th at 6pm raise a glass to legal beer in Michigan. It was beginning of a Michigan’s great brewing industry. A brewing industry that is respected and apprecaited all over the world. Oh… and when you do toast, please don’t use 3.2 beer. Toast with one of the finest beer’s Michigan has to offer.