On July 1, the state of Virginia dragged itself kicking, screaming and foaming into the Modern Era of Beer.
Or did it?
That was the day that 13 new regulations liberalizing the sale and advertising of beer went into effect across the state. The new rules make "3.2 beer" a thing of the past, and for the first time allow beer to be advertised in college publications, among other changes.
But some of the new rules make very little headway. They may require couple of six-packs to understand. They will certainly take a couple of cases to live by.
For example, it is now legal for the first time in Virginia to wear a T-shirt that reads, simply, "Schlitz."
But if you sell or wear a T-shirt that reads "Budweiser, Breakfast of Champions" - you in a heap of trouble, boy.
The new standard is that clothing bearing a beer insignia may not be "suggestive of athletic prowess," may not "induce minors to drink" and may not contain "any indecent statement or depiction." In addition, beer-insignia clothing may only be worn by adults.
In other words, said a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, anything that calls attention to the grandeur and effects of beer, beyond trade labels themselves, is still illegal - punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and/or a $100 fine.
For another example, Virginians may now be served beer in licensed private clubs where bingo games and raffles are being conducted.
But the beer cannot be served in the room where the "action" is taking place, and it may be served only to members or "bona fide guests," whatever they are.
Similarly, beer advertising may now be carried in college newspapers and in programs at college sports events across the state.
But no single ad may be bigger than half a page, and all beer advertising in any one issue of a publication may not exceed 20 per cent of all the advertising therein.
Meanwhile, it is now illegal for licensed sellers of beer in the state to advertise a "happy hour," or cut-rate quaffing period. Licensees can now legally designate outdoor patios or terraces as places to buy a beer - but only if the Virginia ABC Commission approves in advance.
The only unqualified liberalization of beer policy in Virginia will be found in the state's stadiums and coliseums.
Previously, beer could be consumed only in one's seat or in specially designated standing areas beside concession stands. Anyone carrying a beer back to his or her seat was subject to arrest.
But no longer. Beer will now be sellable and drinkable in all areas at professional sports events.
The new regulations also change procedures for those who wholesale beer, or enforce the new regulations themselves.
ABC investigators are now defined as law officers for the first time, to give them added enforcement powers. Beer wholesalers may now rotate stock whenever they choose. Brewers must see prior approval for price increases and new labels. And carriers must file slightly different invoices and reports with the ABC Commission.
The passing of "3.2 beer" from the Virginia scene leaves only eight states, most of them Southern, where the beverage is sold. The "3.2" in its name refers to its alcohol percentage.
Until July 1, approximately 50 towns in 12 Virginia counties limited beer sales to "3.2" under local option. But those communities will not now float away in a golden haze. Most "name" beers contain between 3.8 and 4.2 per cent alcohol, and "light" versions of "name" beers are either 3.3 or 3.4.
The 13 new regulations were adopted last year, some by the General Assembly and some by the ABC Commission. The changes are the first in the state's drinking laws since liquor-by-the-drink was legalized in January, 1969. The minimum Virginia drinking age remains at 18 for beer and 21 for everything else.