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Embracing National Beer Day

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The history behind a made-up holiday

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.

Why April 7? So glad you asked.

Prohibition's End and the First Beer Day

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 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 little true support it did have, with events like the Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929 serving as harsh reminders that like it or not, people were going to find ways to drink. 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.

The cool, crisp, adult beverage-y taste of freedom. That's what we're celebrating. Happy National Beer Day, folks. Drink one for me.

Ale vs. Lager: A Primer

When seeking to quench my thirst for knowledge in advance of National Beer Day, a realization came to me. Despite the fact that I am a beer drinker of some skill and standing, despite the fact that I know plenty of people who brew beer either personally or professionallyI had no earthly idea what the difference was between an ale and a lager.

That is, I never knew why they were different.

It turns out that I was looking at it all wrong. Ale and lager aren't styles of beer, but rather broader categories that encompass various styles. I had always assumed that each type of beer was kind of its own thing; turns out that they all fall under either the ale or lager umbrella.

The primary difference between the two types is the yeast used in the brewing process. The yeast used largely determines ingredients and techniques as well. Ales are fermented warm, with yeast that rises to the top of the brew during the fermentation process. This leads to a generally stronger taste than that of a lager. The lager, meanwhile, is fermented cold and often for a much longer period of time than an ale. The longer, colder fermentation is what gives lagers their crispness.

IPAs and pale ales are ales, obviously, but I also learned that porters and stouts are both ales as well. Wheat beers, too. On the other hand, lagers include pilsners, sure, but also brews like bocks and dunkels.

By most accounts, a vast majority of the beer consumed in the world is lager. That's mostly due to the fact that the beers mass-produced here in the United States are all lagers.

And let's never forget one thing. Ale, lager they're both beer. And beer is good.


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