How “New Beer’s Eve” Eased America Out of Prohibition

Beer was the beginning of the end of Prohibition
Beer was the beginning of the end of Prohibition | © Julia Nastogadka / Unsplash
Photo of Elizabeth Nicholas
20 April 2018

Anyone with a passing knowledge of American history can likely tell you about Prohibition—the Jazz Age and Depression-era moment in American history when alcohol was outlawed. But it would take a real history buff to know that the end to Prohibition didn’t happen all at once, but was instead eased into over the course of several months.

And now a holiday of sorts has sprung up around the commemoration of the beginning of the end of Prohibition.

Why? It all goes back to April 6, 1933, when the Cullen-Harrison Act was enacted into law, several weeks after it had been signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on March 22nd. There were two main provisions in the law: the first said that states could decide to allow sales of beer that contained up to 3.2% alcohol (instead of the .5% limit in the Volstead Act) because that was considered too low to truly produce intoxication. This step was an important one along the way to a full repeal because it redefined what constituted intoxication, suggesting that being a bit tipsier than one might be able to get on .5% was socially acceptable.

Beer | © Steve Parker / Flickr

And the second provision of the Cullen-Harrison Act was that Prohibition (otherwise known as the Volstead Act) would be officially repealed on December 5, 1933.

So, on April 6th, everybody knew the beginning of the end of America’s long dry spell had arrived, and it seemed most appropriate to celebrate in the manner President Roosevelt suggested. “I think this would be a good time for a beer,” he famously said.

And thus a holiday was born. Informally known as “New Beer’s Eve,” people began to gather outside of breweries, some even before it was really night. On that day, people consumed 1.5 million barrels of beer.

People began gathering outside of breweries to celebrate on the night of April 6 | © Jim Kelly / Flickr

However, after Prohibition was repealed in December, it suddenly didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore to simply be able to consume beer with the least amount of alcohol. And so this first step towards repeal fell out of memory until 2009, when a beer enthusiast brought it back to life.

In 2009, Justin Smith, of Richmond, Virginia, started a Facebook page dedicated to a commemoration of the holiday. The Facebook page caught traction and the attention of the Colorado Beer Examiner, Eli Shayotovich, who agreed that the holiday should be made real. But it was really the beer drinking app “Untappd” that helped the holiday take off—the app created a badge for users that rewarded those who checked in for “National Beer Day” on April 7th.

And the rest is history. Since 2009, #NationalBeerDay has trended every year on April 7th, and Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe formally recognized it in 2017.

April 7th is now a day dedicated to celebrating beer in America | © Thad Zadjowicz / Flickr

Cheers to that.

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