- Associated Press - Saturday, August 19, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - It’s the last call for St. Paul’s only 3.2 bar, and the owner is ready to turn out the lights.

“I’m 75. It’s too late for me,” said John Weber, taking a break from mowing grass at the Beehive Tavern in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. “There is no money in it anymore.”

The Beehive once was among dozens of Twin Cities bars serving the low-alcohol beer. But sales of 3.2 beer are as flat as a week-old opened bottle of Pabst, and Minnesota is one of only five states that still sells it.

That means the future of 3.2 bars like the Beehive is bleak. The low-alcohol beer is also sold in gas stations and supermarkets, where sales have been hurt by the recent addition of Sunday liquor sales. And tastes have changed, making 3.2 Minnesota’s most endangered brew.

“I have seen people come in here and then turn around and walk out,” said Beehive bartender Michael, who didn’t want his last name published.

The fact that such a weak beer even exists requires some explaining.

During Prohibition, the U.S. Congress tried to weasel out of a complete ban on alcohol. It declared that any drink with 3.2 percent alcohol or less could not be called an “alcoholic beverage” by law.

Overnight, bars selling 3.2 beer spread across the country.

“It was the first step in repealing Prohibition,” Mike Madigan, president and legal counsel of the Minnesota Beer Wholesalers Association, told the Pioneer Press .

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, states had the power to make their own rules.

State by state and even county by county, new rules were set. They banned sales to minors, forbade Sunday sales, limited sales only to bars, and eliminated late-night hours for taverns.

Out of the five states selling 3.2 beer today, Colorado and Oklahoma are scheduled to phase it out in the next two years. That will leave Utah, Kansas and Minnesota as the last holdouts.

Madigan said 3.2 beer is only “in the single digits” as a percentage of Minnesota beer sales. Half of the national 3.2 beer market is in Oklahoma and another 20 percent in Colorado.

This has led to speculation that big beer-brewers might suspend the brewing of 3.2-beer.

But Madigan doesn’t think so. The market is shrinking, but in Minnesota it’s not going to disappear because of sales at resorts. The resorts have found that 3.2 licenses are easier to get, and those in isolated areas don’t have to worry about competition from bars that serve stronger beer.

But in the metro area, low-alcohol beer seems like a relic. The hottest trend in brewing today is craft beers, with alcohol content typically between 5 percent and 10 percent - up to triple the wallop of the so-called “baby beers.”

At the Beehive Tavern, it feels like the end of an era, with no one there to see it.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon there were no customers to serve, so owner Weber talked about how the place was established in 1889, converted to a 3.2 bar during Prohibition, and never converted back.

It can sell only 3.2 beer and wine that’s diluted to reach the 3.2 percent level.

Weber said his business got hit when the state in 2007 banned smoking in public places.

“That hurt us. Smoking and beer go together,” he said.

Then, in July the state lifted the ban on Sunday liquor sales. Until then, 3.2 bars were the only place to buy a beer on Sunday. “Sunday used to be a good day for us,” said Weber. “It’s been one thing after another.”

The future of the bar is as dim as the beehive Christmas lights behind the bar. Weber is selling the place and said that one prospective buyer would turn it into a food store.

He wistfully recalled the days when the Beehive was busy with community events and meetings. “We don’t have any busy times anymore,” he said.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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