Minnesota’s Alcohol Laws: A Brief History

From the 100-year-old Volstead Act to arguments about 3.2 beer, here are six key moments
Left to right: U.S. House representative Andrew Volstead, who pushed through the act that outlawed alcoholic beverages in the United States; Surly owner and brewer Omar Ansari, who pushed through the law that allowed breweries to serve beer on-site
Left to right: U.S. House representative Andrew Volstead pushed through the 1919 act outlawing alcoholic beverages in the United States; Surly owner and brewer Omar Ansari pushed through the 2011 law allowing breweries to serve beer on-site

Andrew Volstead, courtesy the Library of Congress; Omar Ansari, courtesy Surly Brewing Co.

The 1920 National Prohibition Act—introduced by Andrew Volstead, a U.S. House representative from Minnesota—outlawed alcoholic beverages in the United States for about 14 years. To mark the Volstead Act’s 100th anniversary, here are six notable moments in the state’s liquid legacy.

Late-1800s

Teetotaling Scandinavians butt heads with glass-raising Irish, German, and Polish immigrants. The compromise? Liquor Patrol Limits: zones in Minneapolis where anti-saloon laws don’t apply. Establishments outside LPLs can still sell 3.2% (“non-intoxicating”) beer, though. (Go to: 2019.)

1920

Prohibition goes into effect on January 17. The 21st Amendment will reverse the Volstead Act in late-1933, but until then: bathtub gin, front-page gangsters, and speakeasies from the Twin Cities to the North Shore.

1957

Minnesota still has many dry counties. The state passes the “city option,” so cities determine the legality of making and selling alcohol.

2011

Microbreweries have blown up in the Twin Cities, but they can’t serve beer on-site. An old law distinguishes among makers, distributors, and retailers. Surly Brewing Co. owner Omar Ansari gets Gov. Mark Dayton to pass the Surly Bill with vocal support from fans (known as “Surly Nation”). “They are literally the ones that got us into bars and helped us get the law changed,” Ansari says.

2017

Minnesota lifts its more-than-century-old ban on Sunday liquor sales. Weekenders rejoice, liquor stores adjust.

2019

As of November 1, Minnesota is the last state observing a Prohibition-era law restricting grocery and convenience stores to selling 3.2 beer—today known as “beer-flavored water.” “It does feel lonely,” the Minnesota Grocers Association president told NPR, on being last. Liquor stores’ new Sunday hours have hit sales of 3.2 beer. Expect further legislative deliberation on whether to overturn the statute in 2020.

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