Raise a Glass and Celebrate Two Beer Holidays This Week

RV1864 via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
RV1864 via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / RV1864 via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

America has all sorts of obscure holidays, from Frozen Food Day (March 6) to Walk on Stilts Day (July 27) to Virus Appreciation Day (October 3). Most of these go unnoticed by all save the biggest frozen food lovers and virus appreciators among us. But there are some little-known holidays that deserve much more acclaim—like the anniversary of beer’s return to America.

On April 7, 1933, 14 years after Prohibition began, the sale of beer was once again legal in the U.S. Across the country, people crowded into taverns and restaurants to order a pint—or three—of the long-absent libation. So eager were Americans to wet their whistles again that many had begun packing the streets on the night of April 6, a date known as "New Beer’s Eve," to await the first deliveries. In Chicago, WGN Radio had a correspondent updating listeners as the first barrels made their way from the brewery to locations across the city, while in Baltimore, rain-soaked patrons cheered the delivery trucks as they made their rounds.

As the first barrels rolled in, years of pent-up mischief and merriment were released in a great sudsy flow.

“The downtown section was a Mardi Gras,” The Baltimore Sun wrote of the scene at the time. “Hundreds of horns, whistles, guns and small cannon shrieked and roared while the hands of 'Big Sam'—the City Hall clock—crept past midnight."

Prohibition was still in effect at the time, and only 19 states had agreed to begin selling beer once again. Also, the newly brewed beer was only 3.2 percent alcohol by volume (drinkers would have to wait until the official end of Prohibition on December 5 to get anything above that, including liquor). But this was a major shift for citizens who had spent years ducking into speakeasies and downing "near beer," which had an ABV of just .5 percent, the maximum amount allowed under Prohibition.

Newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt had overseen the legal maneuvering behind beer’s reemergence. With the support of a group of anti-Prohibition members of Congress known as “the wets,” he secured passage of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale of low-alcohol beer and wine. In truth, Roosevelt had ridden the wave of public disgust toward Prohibition, which had grown particularly sour during the Great Depression, when many people were in need of a boozy pick-me-up.

The act had an immediate effect on more than just the national morale. Breweries, which previously had to lay off workers and turn to alternative revenue streams like furniture and toy manufacturing, hired back more than 50,000 workers. Brewing cities like Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Chicago benefited, and throughout the country, sales of beer and wine gave businesses a much-needed shot in the arm. Within the first two days of beer's reemergence, more than $25 million flowed into breweries and related businesses.

Today, beer continues to be a commercial juggernaut, with yearly sales topping $105 billion. And it all started—or re-started—on a boozy April 7 more than 80 years ago. So spend today picking out your favorite brew so that tomorrow you can raise a glass to National Beer Day. As FDR said at the time, “I think this would be a very good time for a beer.”