A proposal to raise to 21 Virginia's drinking age for beer was approved 29 to 11 yesterday by the Senate.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), sponsor of the bill, predicted that the vote will mean the end to several years of highly emotional debate and the General Assembly's adoption of the higher age limit -- largely because millions of dollars in federal funds would be threatened without the law.

Legislators said they expect no problems for the proposal in the House, which has approved similar measures in past years. On Monday, a House committee passed a bill that would raise the drinking age for beer to 21 sooner than the Senate bill would. Saslaw said he expects the two chambers to compromise on the issue.

The Senate rejected two amendments yesterday that would have prevented the enactment of the higher drinking age until the federal government adopted the same restriction for military bases in the state.

Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) denigrated Congress for requiring more of states than it does of its own military bases. He urged his colleagues to send a message to those "who in their infinite wisdom . . . stuck it to us."