80 Years Since Repeal of Prohibition

80Today marks the 80th anniversary of Repeal of Prohibition in the United States, that noble attempt to better Americans and American society through moral legislation. Its failure turned on too many American’s willingness to do as they please, not as the law dictated. It was not the first time that Americans broke the law en mass. But it was an excellent example of Americans disobeying a constitutional and legal imperative for the sake of enjoying themselves—and in a fashion followed since the continent was first peopled by Europeans.  It was a hard nut to crack from the get-go.

Eighty years hence, Americans have fully embraced consumption of alcohol. That embrace is a true bear hug, yet it doesn’t include a particularly sloppy kiss. Americans are hardly among the most abusive of drinkers. And the same Puritan/Reforming tendencies that brought on prohibition motivate us to watch carefully and regulate toward the prevention of abuse.

Americans have become a sophisticated and complicated society of drinkers, downing all manner of flavors and types of alcohol and supporting its production by folks now deemed “artisans”. It’s very hard to overstate the diversity of wine now produced across the country. Furthermore, the same regional pride, entrepreneurial motivations and a craftman spirit that has lifted wine to great diversity is now doing the same for spirits and beer. And what’s interesting is that this drive toward diversity has been accomplished in only the past 35 years.

What caused this relatively recent explosion in interest of various flavors and types of alcohol? Some like to imply the mighty diversity of alcohol products and the support they receive is a result of three-tier system of alcohol distribution and sales and the state-based responsibility for regulating alcohol production and sales.

This of course makes no sense since the explosion in diversity occurred a long time after Repeal and the institution of the various forms of the three-tier system at the state level. We can write off the regulatory structure as the cause of choice in alcohol in the United States.

The answer is far more complex:

1. The recently expanded embrace by Americans of new cuisines with their new flavors guided the American palate to a place the gave us confidence in trying new and different drinks

2. A heightened prestige of American wine in the 1970s and 1980s inspired more people to plant grapes and make wine, leading to new choices and further evidence that American wine was and could be world-class.

3. A willingness of publishers to cover the wine scene and of Americans to support reports and writings on wine helped spread the world of wine’s benefits to a good life.

This is what spurred the expansion of wine and beer and spirit in America post-prohibition and it did so IN SPITE of the stern and consistent resistance among American distributors of alcohol to help Americans access the growing list of bottlings, not because of the distribution system, its three tiers, and the state governance of alcohol regulations.

Today, when people lament the often difficult time they have in accessing the wines they want due to archaic and protectionist state laws concerning alcohol, they sometimes blame prohibitionist tendencies in the collective American psyche that translates into restrictive laws. This really isn’t the case and isn’t the cause of continued issues with access to products. The problem is almost always a result of money, politics and protectionist legislation that shields the campaign contributing forces in the wine industry who want protection from competition.

Celebrate these 80 years of Repeal. It’s a worthy reason for celebration. But note that today, problems consumers still face are not remnants of prohibitionist tendencies. They are problems of money and power ceded to industry players that have nothing to gain by providing American consumers with the means to fully embrace the explosion of alcoholic beverages.

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6 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - December 5, 2013


    I don’t think Puritans were the force behind Prohibition. In fact, Puritan living included alcohol.

    The word Puritan is used incorrectly almost every time it is used.

  2. Bill McIver - December 5, 2013

    Hey, Tom, you won’t be surprised that I, the Grand Poobah of direct shipping, was born the same year Prohibition ended!

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