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Celebrating Beer Day

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One of the greatest things about this job is that I'm always learning new things. For instance, until just a few short weeks ago, I had never heard of National Beer Day or its companion holiday, New Beer's Eve.

National Beer Day takes place on April 7 every year. Why April 7? So glad you asked.

The Prohibition era in the United States began in 1920 when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was effected, outlawing the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol on a national level. The National Prohibition Act, passed in 1919 and popularly known as the Volstead Act, established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor and the assorted punishments for producing or selling it.

The history books, not to mention scads of pop culture shout-outs, tell us what happened next. The Volstead Act proved exceedingly difficult to enforce, which led to a wildly popular underground economy, filled with bootleggers, rumrunners and speakeasy clubs. In many ways, Prohibition gave birth to the "organized crime" that remains with us to this day.

Prohibition soon lost what support it did have, with events like the Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929 leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the public. Add to that the Great Depression, when people clearly needed something to take their minds off the dismal state of the nation, and Prohibition's days were clearly numbered.

And so, on March 22, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law an amendment to the Volstead Act known as the Cullen-Harrison Act. Cullen-Harrison legalized the sale of beers and wines with a sufficiently low alcohol content (3.2 percent or below by weight), effective when? You guessed it, April 7.

People were once again allowed to legally buy beer. There were lines outside taverns and breweries all over the country as people swarmed for the opportunity to legally buy a beer for the first time in well over a decade. Of course, in December of that same year, the 21st Amendment was ratified, hence repealing the 18th Amendment and effectively bringing the Prohibition era to an end.

National Beer Day is what we like to call an "unofficial" holiday. Sure, it isn't acknowledged on any federal calendar, but that doesn't make it any less legitimate. Look at some of the other "holidays" that share the same month. April Fools Day? Not an official holiday, but who doesn't love pulling a harmless prank or two? And what about Earth Day? Again, not official, but who would argue against its importance and/or legitimacy?

So it is with National Beer Day (and New Beer's Eve, of course). Is it silly? Of course it is. Still, there's something to be said for a day set aside to celebrate something that so many of us enjoy. Beer is a part of our national consciousness in a way that few other consumables are.

Think about the huge variety of beer you see when you go to the grocery store or visit your local watering hole. Think about the utter ubiquity of beer commercials on our television airwaves. Think about the rapidly-growing contingent of small craft breweries offering their own unique takes on the classic beverage. Think about the multitude of homebrewers making their own beers in their own homes - a throwback to those Prohibition days, only without the fear of reprisal.

Beer has become an American institution. So why not set aside a day to celebrate? Tip back a tall cold one on April 7, my friends. Heck, if I had my druthers, I'd make it a whole week, because really, is a single day enough? Let's remember that there was a time, not so long ago, when you couldn't just stroll into your favorite pub and order a pint. It's a freedom that we're privileged to have.

Happy National Beer Day, folks. Stay thirsty.

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 15:24

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