Monday, April 9, 2012

Legal Beer

Eight months before the official end of Prohibition, patrons at Walkers Bar in Butte raised glasses of beer in celebration. A sign read, “The only place in the United States that served Draught Beer over the bar April 8, 1933.” President Franklin Roosevelt gave the repeal of Prohibition top priority because traffic in illegal liquor fostered so much criminal activity. Roosevelt knew its repeal would take time. So when he took office in 1933, he signed the Cullen-Harrison Act legalizing beverages with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent. Twenty states, including Montana, legalized 3.2 beer. The law took effect on April 7, and within twenty-four hours, the nation consumed 1.5 million barrels of beer. Montana enjoyed its 3.2 beer until the Twenty-first Amendment repealing Prohibition took effect eight months later on December 5.

Photo from Metals Sports Bar
 Although Montana was one of twenty states legalizing 3.2 beer, except for Walkers in Butte, beer didn’t magically appear in local Montana bars. While state beer licenses brought in seventy-three thousand dollars in the first two days, legal beer only trickled into the state. The first shipment of 3.2 Pabst left Milwaukee on April 7, the very same day it became legal. A new refrigerated warehouse at the Northern Pacific Railway yards in Helena waited to store it for distribution. But it was five days before Helena got its first taste of legal beer. With 1.5 million barrels of beer consumed nationwide in the first twenty-four hours after the signing of the Cullen-Harrison Act, Walkers could not have been the country’s only outlet. The question is: how did Walkers get its first legal 3.2 beer at a moment’s notice?

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