What can I say about 3.2 Beer, and the Maid-Rite?  Plenty, as it turns out.

1948

Let me start off by pointing out the double entendre or pun like nature of the word Maid-Rite.  When I was young, my family would often eat at the Maid-Rite.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I always got the same thing – 2 Maid-Rites, a bag of chips and a Coke.  Dad usually got 3 (sometimes 4) Maid-Rites, mom 2, and my sister, Elaine, 1.  Since Blaine had a sweet tooth, he sometimes ordered a chocolate shake, as well.

We would place our order at the first window, pick up our bag of burgers from the second, and then proceed to the parking lot behind the building.  If it was full, we parked behind Hamilton Motors.  I loved Maid-Rites – they were so very, very fine.  It was my favorite ‘food’ growing up.

As a kid I didn’t pay much attention to the spelling of words.  I had a fairly large vocabulary for a youngin, but I couldn’t spell half the words in my repertoire.  I still can’t spell all that well.  I had to look up the spelling of repertoire, for example.

For years, whenever I referenced the Maid-Rite to others, in the back of my head was the notion that Maid-Rites tasted so flippin good because they were made the correct way.  They were made-right, in other words.

But then one day I noticed (for the first time) the actual spelling of the word ‘Maid-Rite’ and, boom, the 25-watt lightbulb (I can be a bit dim witted at times) inside my head, flashed on.  “Humm”, I thought to myself.  “A Maid-Rite could be made-right, by a maid. It’s a play on words, in other words.  I get it.  It’s a pun!”  I then asked mom if she had ever thought about the term that way, and she said, “no.”  I could tell she didn’t care one way or another, so I let it go – until today, that is.

Regardless of the pun-ish nature of the word, Maid-Rite, sandwiches were/are the best in the world; I ate there a ton, especially once I started driving.  In addition to playing host to the world’s best food, it is also the place where I legally bought my first alcoholic drink – a 3.2 (Champaign of bottled beer) Miller Highlight.  Drinking Miller Highlight, ostensibly lead to the “High Life.”  I mean, how could I say “no” to a highlife?  No one does that, rite?

“How did 3.2 beer come into being?” is a question I once asked myself, long, long ago.  So, I researched it.  This was before Google, back when I used libraries to feed my head (or knowledge addiction).  Credit for the above image goes to Grace Slick.

I discovered that the incipient rise of 3.2 beer dates back 90 years to 1933. Several months before Prohibition was repealed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act, fulfilling a campaign promise.  A compromise was struck, and 3.2 beer was born. BTW, 3.2 is an arbitrary number. There’s not a damn thing magical about it.  Just thought you should know that.

It turns out that because prohibition was still officially the law of the land, there had to be some type of limit placed on the amount of alcohol allowed in beer. Hearings were held and eventually the political process produced a standard which most legislators could live with.

After the feds legalized liquor, the whole 3.2 percent beer thing took off in many states.  It became a middle ground for these states – a middle ground between allowing alcohol or not. It became somewhat of a temperance standard, essentially.  It was referred to as ‘The Long Shadow of Prohibition.’  I love the image it conjures.  It’s almost poetic.  And that’s why it’s memorable.

But here’s where things get stupid.  Federal regulators at the time set 3.2 beer apart from other drinks. A major (flawed as it was) study conducted in the 1930s labeled 3.2 beer as a non-intoxicating beverage.  Obviously, this is a joke.  Because if an 18-year-old consumes an 8-pack of 3.2 Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, let’s say, (and I’m speaking from experience) he’s going to feel an epic buzz.  Hell, I could barely walk, afterwards, the first time I drank an eight-pack in one sitting.

As an 18-year-old who could legally buy 3.2 beer, it always seemed irrational to me that I could buy 3.2 but not 6.0, even though the 6.0 might only be 3.3 (it needs to be between 3.3 and 6).

It’s perhaps obvious to many, but teen consumption is what initially fueled the sale of 3.2 beer. Sales from 3.2 beer from 40 to 50 years ago were incredibly profitable. That was the time when many states had one law for 18- year-olds and a different law for 21 and older.  Eighteen-year-olds could legally drink, in many states, as long as it was “just” 3.2 beer. Kids even younger than 18 (me included) found it easy to get 3.2 beer.  The infamous Herb’s carry-out, on the outer part of town, would sell beer to just about anyone with a pulse who had money and could walk upright, as long as it was just 3.2.

As it turns out, American teen drinking peaked in the late early 1980s. And by the mid-1980s, the country adopted a uniform minimum drinking age of 21, and one by one, states started scrapping their special rules for 3.2 beer.

My First Legal Beer

Was purchased on a Tuesday night at the Made-Right on November 28th, 1968.  I started school ‘late’ due to my birthday falling in November.  I was a senior in high school when I turned 18.

I had a fake ID (after I doctored it up a bit) which came with a wallet I purchased from Murphy’s Five and Dime.  It was a piece of crap ID, but Herb’s carryout didn’t seem to mind.  It also worked in a few bars out of town.

It was somehow symbolic to me that I could finally buy a beer, legally.  When I waltzed up to the Maid-Rite’s counter to buy my first legitimate beer every fiber of my being wanted to be ‘carded.’

Old man (grumpy old man that is) Koontz waited on me.  He asked me what I wanted, and I said “I’ll take 3 Maid-Rites and a Miller Highlife.  And then I waited for him to ask for my ID, which he didn’t.

“Are you kidding me”, I mused to myself.  I’ve waited my entire friggin life for this moment and it turned out to be completely anticlimactic.  I asked “would you like to see my ID.”  And James Koontz responded with “no, that won’t be necessary.”

Anyway, that’s my story.  Do you have a similar one?  Did you have a fake ID, growing up?  Do you remember ordering your first legal 3.2 beer?  Where did this occur?

Alan Clark, over but never out…