Stats Made Easy

Practical Tools for Effective Experimentation

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Origin of 3.2% alcohol beer – an antidote for those dispirited by the Great Experiment

"Our country has deliberately undertaken a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose." -- Herbert Hoover

75 years ago, legal beer – albeit only 3.2% alcohol, returned to the U.S. and provided a spark of hope for a country in a depression – this is the subtitle of a recent story by the LA Times by Maureen Ogle on “The day the beer flowed again”. This ended a hugely unsuccessful experiment on temperance that lasted over a dozen years beginning in 1920. I still remember a home brew recipe from this era, yellowed and curled, that my grandfather had tacked up above his workbench – it was labeled “Bill’s Beer.” I’ll bet it tasted good on a dry decade!

My interest in 3.2 beer was piqued by the author of Land of Amber Waters, Doug Hoverson, who spoke last weekend at gathering sponsored by our county's historical society. Before Prohibition* the alcohol level in beer was 2.75% but on April 7, 1933 it went back on the market with a higher amount of 3.2% that was considered “chemically necessary to make a better beer.” Hoverson said that two US Congressmen experimented on how much they needed to feel so intoxicated that they could no longer function properly in their work. [Insert your joke here.]

This experiment by Prohibition-busting USA lawmakers may have benefitted from a more scientific "titration" to develop a dose-response curve as illustrated by this white paper from the University of British Columbia. I'd always thought of titration as something a chemist did, for example to precisely determine pH of a solution. However, my colleague Pat Whitcomb showed me how this concept can be applied in a very sophisticated statistical approach for dose response curves. This is presented in a new workshop he developed called Designed Experiments for Life Sciences -- a great introduction to powerful tools of value to scientists, engineers, and technical professionals working in the pharmaceutical, biomedical technology and biomedical device fields, as well as organizations and institutions that devote the majority of their efforts to research, development, technology transfer, or commercialization of life enhancing products.

* According to the USA’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) detailing of 3.2% beer, the 18th Amendment, which outlawed intoxicating liquors, but made no reference to alcohol content. However, the Volstead Act, named after a Representative from Minnesota (land of intemperate emigrated Scandinavians) set the legal alcohol limit at one-half of 1 percent. Thus the only "beer" that could be sold legally in the United States during Prohibition (1920-1933) was "near beer"(now known as “low point beer”) – a “wishy-washy, thin, ill-tasting, discouraging sort of slop that it might have been dreamed up by a Puritan Machiavelli with the intent of disgusting drinkers with genuine beer forever," according to food critic Waverly Root.


  • At 11:29 AM, Anonymous crisis intervention said…

    A low alcohol volume can still cause alcoholism to a person, if he/she is into excessive drinking. That is why the moderation of liquor drinking is still important up to now, in order to avoid alcohol related incidents.


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