National Beer Day: Franklin Roosevelt’s Weirdest Legacy
As one of the world’s oldest and most widely consumed beverages, it’s only fitting that beer has a celebration all its own. But that fact that people have been enjoying it for millennia isn’t the only reason this flavorful fermented drink has earned the right to call April 7 its own special holiday. New Beer’s Eve, which takes place on April 6 every year, and National Beer Day, which delights drinkers around the country the following day, actually originated out of some surprisingly important events in American history.
So, National Beer Day isn’t just about knocking back a pint and calling it a night. It also commemorates the legalization of the sale of beer in the U.S., which officially took place when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933. To celebrate this hoppy holiday, we’re taking a look into the origins of the occasion and sharing some fun ideas for commemorating National Beer Day.
National Beer Day’s Post-Prohibition Beginnings
Throughout all of the 1920s and into the 1930s, people in the U.S. were living under the provisions of the Volstead Act, which was enacted in 1919 and effectively prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages — it’s a period we commonly refer to as Prohibition. And while it was illegal to make and sell alcohol during this time, it wasn’t actually illegal to drink it. There was still demand for all things fizzy and spirited, and as a result, illegal economies, speakeasies and bootlegging operations cropped up around the country in order to meet the needs of intrepid imbibers.
It became so difficult for police and others to enforce Prohibition laws — so many people were still producing, transporting and drinking alcohol — that Congress decided to ease the burden by proposing some new legislation. The Cullen-Harrison Act was introduced to let people resume producing and selling alcohol — but just in some highly regulated ways. Under this new law, the sale of beer with an alcohol content of 3.2% (and similarly low-alcohol-content wines) would be permitted; members of Congress believed this percentage of alcohol was low enough that people wouldn’t become intoxicated after drinking it.
The Cullen-Harrison Act was proposed in February of 1933, and it made its way through legislative processes until it landed on FDR’s desk. On April 7, 1933, he signed it into law and officially legalized the sale of low-alcohol beer and wine. One of FDR’s initial priorities as president was to repeal Volstead — in part because he enjoyed the more-than-occasional drink himself but primarily because he believed, as part of his New Deal package for restoring the ailing post-Depression U.S., that allowing alcohol sales would provide a much-needed boost for the country’s economy.
After signing the act, Roosevelt reportedly said something along the lines of, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” While the exact words may have been lost to time like suds draining from a pint glass, they — and his overall decision to amend Volstead — may have led to one of FDR’s strangest legacies.
The Virginian Origins of National Beer Day
FDR amended the 13-year alcohol ban in the U.S. within his first 100 days in office. However, he didn’t declare the day a national holiday. More than 75 years later, on April 7, 2009, Justin Smith unofficially named the date National Beer Day. Harnessing the power of hashtags and utilizing social media for assistance, Smith began spreading the word about the new, beer-centric occasion, and it gradually caught on. Eventually, the Richmond, Virginia, resident’s influence paid off: In 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe officially recognized April 7 as National Beer Day across the state. Virginia Congressman Dave Brat soon followed suit, officially recognizing the holiday on Congressional Record that same year.
These days, events begin on the night of April 6 — a period of time that beer aficionados refer to as New Beer’s Eve. They celebrate their freedom to choose to drink beer as beer as the clock strikes midnight and turns over to the official holiday, much like the real New Year’s Eve. And, just as there’s a wide array of beers to choose from out there in the world, there’s an equally impressive number of ways to celebrate this unique holiday.
Commemorate National Beer Day With Some Frothy Fun
Ready to show your appreciation for the Cullen-Harrison Act? You’ll be happy to know there are so many great ways to take part. There are some classic options, like heading to your favorite pub and sampling a flight of new-to-you brews, and you can always host your own event in the comfort of your own home.
National Beer Day is a great time to break some barriers, too. Loyal to one brand? This is the day to sample new types and expand your palate. You can achieve this mission with some adventurous friends by bar-hopping, playing a drinking game or two, or heading to a local brewery to see what’s on tap.
Teetotalers can even celebrate the day by learning about beer. Consider yourself a lifelong student? Take some time to study the fascinating history of this beloved drink; it’s believed to have been invented nearly 7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, and plenty has happened in beer’s evolution since then.
Feeling sophisticated? National Beer Day is the ideal time to attend or host a beer and cheese tasting party. You can kick things into a higher gear by serving cheddar-beer soup alongside beer-infused steak or chicken. Top the evening off with a beer-soaked cake and a virtual visit to the American Prohibition Museum, and revel in the knowledge that the Squire of Hyde Park himself would be proud.