Drinking Non-Alcoholic Beer Can Be A Crime?

There was a news item a few days ago that recently a fifth grade teacher in Michigan offered students non-alcoholic beer — O’Douls — as part of “a lesson on colonial times,” with the intention to “represent ale common in the 1700s and consumed because of the scarcity of clean water.” Sounds harmless enough. No students were forced to try it, but they had the opportunity to sample it if they wished to. What could go wrong?

What the teacher didn’t know is that apparently it’s actually illegal to give a minor in Michigan a non-alcoholic beer. The law was passed back in the 1950s, when people were even nuttier about alcohol than they are today, if that’s possible, but Michigan did pass a law making it illegal for minors to drink non-alcoholic beer. Here’s the entirety of the law:

Act 328 of 1931

750.28 Cereal beverage with alcoholic content; furnishing to minors, penalty.

Sec. 28.

Any person who shall sell, give or furnish to a minor, except upon authority of and pursuant to a prescription of a duly licensed physician, any cereal beverage of any alcoholic content under the name of “near beer”, or “brew”, or “bru”, or any other name which is capable of conveying the impression to the purchaser that the beverage has an alcoholic content, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

History: Add. 1957, Act 283, Eff. Sept. 27, 1957

How Kafkaesque. The state defines what non-alcoholic means then still makes it illegal even if it’s within their own definition, and if it’s 0.5% or below, Michigan state’s Liquor Control Commission doesn’t even regulate it. So alcohol in cough syrup. No problem. Non-alcoholic wine? Go for it. A cereal beverage? Heavens no. That’s going too far.

And perhaps more curious, the law can be read to suggest that what’s at issue is giving the “impression” that the drink has alcohol in it, not that it really does. Because it seems like you could create a non-alcoholic beer within the legal definition but call it something random, like “Barley Pop” or “Brown Cow” and not be in violation of this law if you gave some to your children. The name seems more important than the alcoholic content. Why would that be the case?

When I was a kid, the only reason near beer existed was for kids. No sane adult would drink it. My first taste of beer was from a can of near beer that my parents bought for me when I expressed interest in trying beer, which was the case for some of my friends, too. It was horrible. I think that may have been the point, I don’t know.

The Flint Journal reports that the school sent letters home to parents after they discovered the “incident” but according to school district Superintendent Ed Koledo. “Nobody complained to the teacher, principal or me,” or to the police, and no disciplinary measures were taken against the teacher. Despite nobody being upset in the least, you’d think a nuclear blast had gone off, the way they talk about it.

“We talked to the teacher and said this was an inappropriate choice,” Koledo said. “There were a lot better choices to represent a colonial-era drink than what was chosen here.”

Really, what would have been a better choice to represent what the vast majority of people drank during the colonial era? And he says “a lot of better choices.” A lot? Really? I can’t wait to see the list.

“I know there was no intent to expose anyone to harm, just poor thought in this situation.”

Seriously, “poor thought?” It’s non-alcoholic beer for chrissakes, and a few kids had a sip of it in a controlled environment, not a back alley clutching a paper bag. And it was a sip. What is a sip? A teaspoon? Half an ounce? Oh, the horror.

Linden schools are drug and alcohol-free zones and Koledo said he did not know if O’Doul’s beer would constitute a violation.

Again, are we really going to split hairs because it has 0.5% alcohol (or less) in it? So is cough medicine allowed on campus? I’m pretty sure caffeine can be considered a drug, so I hope they’re going to remove the coffee maker from the teacher’s lounge. Up until the 1970s, schools in Belgium served students table beer every day.

So how exactly did this end up being a news story?


Beer Birthday: Fred Bueltmann

Today is Fred Bueltmann’s 45th birthday. Fred is a partner in New Holland Brewing, and works their sales and distribution side. He’s also a self-styled Beervangelist and will soon be publishing the “Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which was successfully funded on Kickstarter. I’ve met Fred several times over the years but got to know him a lot better at GABF a couple of years ago, when it seemed like we judged together on every other session, and had a marvelous time in between rounds. Join me in wishing Fred a very happy birthday.

Fred’s promo shot for his Beervangelist book.

With Carolyn Smagalski at Wynkoop during GABF last year. (“borrowed” from her Facebook page, thanks Carolyn).

Beer Birthday: Pete Reid

Today is Pete Reid’s 50th birthday. Pete is the publisher of Modern Brewery Age. I first met Pete a number of years ago at a Craft Brewers Conference but finally got to know him much better during a trip to Bavaria a few years back, where the two of us took a side trip to Salzburg to visit the Austrian Trumer Brauerei. Join me in wishing Pete a very happy birthday.

At the Zotler Brauerei in Germany.

At the Bavarian Hop Museum, that’s Pete in the back row in the baseball cap.

Peter Reid, with Gary Ettelman, of Ettelman & Hochheiser at the NBWA convention in 2008.

Toasting with Horst Dornbusch at the Bamberg Brewing Museum.

Beer Birthday: John Mallett

Today is John Mallett’s 49th birthday, John is the production manager at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a post he’s held since 2001. John has a great sense of humor and I recall a particularly side-splitting kvetching evening-long conversation with him and Fal Allen at CBC in San Diego a number of years ago (not the most recent one). John me in wishing John a very happy birthday.

Mugging for the camera at GABF in 2007, with Bob Pease, Ray Daniels and Mark Dorber.

At Bruce Paton’s “Tion” Beer Dinner. That’s John in orange trying to smooch with Peter Bouckaert from New Belgium.

John with Fred Bueltmann of New Holland Brewing, at Red Horse Ranch in Michigan (photo purloined from Facebook).

If you’d like to see John wearing lederhosen, click here.

Beer Birthday: Larry Bell

Today is also the birthday of yet another brewing legend. Larry Bell, the iconoclastic owner of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan, turns 55 today. Join me in wishing Larry a very happy birthday.

Larry with Alan Sprints, from Hair of the Dog at the Full Sail Smoker during the Oregon Brewers Festival a few years ago.

Larry, with Ed and Carol Stoudt, from Stoudt Brewing, and Ken Allen, from Anderson Valley Brewing at the Craft Brewers Conference in Austin, Texas, in 2007.

Larry Bell
Larry accepting the BA Recognition Award at CBC recently.

At OBF in 2008.

The Moon-Faced Man

Here’s an odd artifact, a postcard from 1910, with a Holland, Michigan postmark, featuring an illustration of a moon-faced man and the following poem:

Bike the moon, my brethren dear,
I am “full” as full can be,
Full of grace and lager beer,
Full of food and sanctity!


Michigan Beer

Today in 1837, Michigan became the 26th state.


Michigan Breweries

Michigan Brewery Guides

Guild: Michigan Brewers Guild

State Agency: Michigan Liquor Control Commission


  • Capital: Lansing
  • Largest Cities: Detroit, Grand Rapids, Warren, Flint, Sterling Heights
  • Population: 9,938,444; 8th
  • Area: 96,810 sq.mi., 11th
  • Nickname: Wolverine State / Great Lakes State
  • Statehood: 26th, January 26, 1837


  • Alcohol Legalized: April 27, 1933
  • Number of Breweries: 96
  • Rank: 6th
  • Beer Production: 6,5774,66
  • Production Rank: 8th
  • Beer Per Capita: 20.4 Gallons


Package Mix:

  • Bottles: 38.8%
  • Cans: 48.1%
  • Kegs: 12.8%

Beer Taxes:

  • Per Gallon: $0.20
  • Per Case: $0.46
  • Tax Per Barrel (24/12 Case): $6.30
  • Draught Tax Per Barrel (in Kegs): $6.30

Economic Impact (2010):

  • From Brewing: $242,599,259
  • Direct Impact: $2,115,676,429
  • Supplier Impact: $1,547,137,698
  • Induced Economic Impact: $1,268,318,359
  • Total Impact: $4,931,132,486

Legal Restrictions:

  • Control State: No
  • Sale Hours: On Premises: 7 a.m.–2 a.m. (Mon-Sat)
    Noon-2 a.m. (Sunday) *sales may begin at 7 a.m. with special license extension
    Off Premises: 7 a.m.–2 a.m. (Mon-Sat)
    Noon-2 a.m. (Sunday) *sales may begin at 7 a.m. with special license extension
  • Grocery Store Sales: Yes
  • Notes: The Michigan Liquor Control Commission allows the sale of alcoholic beverages until 11:59 p.m. on December 24 and after 12:00 p.m. on December 25. On-premises sales are permitted on January 1 until 4:00 a.m. Local or county ordinance may restrict Sunday or Sunday morning sales.


Data complied, in part, from the Beer Institute’s Brewer’s Almanac 2010, Beer Serves America, the Brewers Association, Wikipedia and my World Factbook. If you see I’m missing a brewery link, please be so kind as to drop me a note or simply comment on this post. Thanks.

For the remaining states, see Brewing Links: United States.

Brewery Unharmed In Dark Horse Fire

A fire broke out yesterday at the complex housing Michigan’s Dark Horse Brewing. The brewery and brewpub appear to be unharmed and are open for business. According to the Battle Creek Enquirer, the building that burned “housed a general store that sold Dark Horse merchandise and was rented by Dark Starz Tattoos. A corner of the building was collapsed and the interior was gutted.” On Dark Horse’s website they have the following. “The fire was in our General Store and Skate Shop across the parking lot from the Taproom.”

The Fire Marshall is saying that there are suspicious elements to the fire. “Firefighters recognized abnormal fire behavior as they fought the blaze in the 500 block of South Kalamazoo Avenue, according to Marshall Assistant Fire Chief Bill Hankinson. ‘The way the fire burned’ was what raised suspicions, Hankinson said. ‘It was way too fast, and incorrectly for an accidental fire. But we are not ruling out the possibility that it was accidental.’

WWMT Channel 3 Also has a video report on the fire.

The scene at Dark Horse after the fire was put out.