April marks the 80th anniversary of the Beer and Wine Revenue Act, which legalized the sale – and government taxation – of beer and wine with an alcohol content of 4 percent alcohol by volume.
While this is pretty weak sauce by today’s boozy standards, people lined up at taverns and breweries for their first taste of legal hooch in over a decade.
These days, few craft beers comply with the alcohol limitations set forth eighty years ago, but if you do a little digging, you can still find some brews that let you party like it’s 1933.
Bruery Hottenroth Beliner Weisse (3.1 percent ABV)
This Belgian-style wheat ale is brewed with Brettanomyces yeast to give it an old-school Belgian funkiness, and lactobacillus, a bacteria that gives sour beers their pucker. The Bruery adds in a squeeze of raspberry syrup and a pinch of woodruff herb to add some sweetness to the mix. The result is a refreshing blend of lemons, apple, sour dough and a golden thread of wheat, with an earthy funk creeping around in the background like a determined Prohibition agent.
Victory Donnybrook Stout (3.7 percent ABV)
Served on-tap and propelled by nitrogen, this velvety stout delivers notes of roasted malt, chocolate and a touch of coffee. There’s just a hint of whole flower European hops on board to provide a gentle bite, and the beer has a whiff of peatiness about it. “Donnybrook” means a public brawl, making this beer aptly named for this contentious chapter in American history.
Notch Session Pils (4.0 percent ABV)
Mild by design but still satisfying, Notch Session Pils is bready and grassy, with traces of apples and lemon. It’s also beautiful in the glass, boasting a clear golden yellow body, with a generous head and good carbonation. This Czech-style pilsner’s combination of low alcohol and refreshing flavor make it the perfect lawnmower beer, especially if you’re working up a sweat shoving a 1930s era push mower around your yard. Hipster alert!
Uinta Baba Black Lager (4.0 percent ABV)
It’s practically still 1933 at grocery stores and taverns in Utah, where state law limits alcohol content of beer sold in these establishments to 4.0 percent ABV. Because of this, Utah brewers like Uinta are masters at extracting great flavor out of thin air (or at least thin beer). Baba Black Lager pours an inky brown with a nice mocha head, and smells of roasted malts and coffee. A sip reveals an earthy blend of lightly roasted malts, some nuttiness, herbs, and hints of caramel, espresso and bakers chocolate. It finishes bitter, leaving a dark roasted malt aftertaste in its wake.
New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red (4 percent ABV)
New Glarus Wisconsin Red Ale is brewed with Montmorency cherries, Wisconsin wheat and roasted barley from Belgium. After it’s brewed, it spends a full year fermenting in refrigerated oak lagering tanks. After you cut away its waxed top and pour this beauty into a glass, you’ll be treated to its mesmerizing garnet-red color, and the smell of earthy cherry. A sip treats you to a cascade of cherry pie flavor with just a tantalizing touch of tartness. This beer is robust and refreshing, proving that you don’t need booze to have lots of flavor.
Of course you could channel your inner flapper, and enjoy the sinfully potent Speakeasy Prohibition Ale, a 6.1 percent American amber that won’t be constrained by a little thing like the law. While speakeasies were for the rich folks, the average Joe would frequent a “Blind Pig,” which is also the name of Russian River’s excellent 6.1 percent ABV IPA that enjoys “world-class” status on BeerAdvocate.
Whatever Prohibition era beer you choose, take a moment to reflect on the fact that you have a choice at all, and can exercise your free will as a reasonable adult.
As Will Rogers said, “Why don't they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.”