A New Day To Celebrate With Beer
Yesterday marked the 78th anniversary of the 21st Amendment’s ratification. If you do not carry a pocket-sized U.S. Constitution like I do, this amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, or the one that established Prohibition. In case you missed Ken Burns’ PBS mini-series on the subject a few months ago, the mandate prohibited “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within…the United States.”
The social media and blogosphere worlds buzzed yesterday with cheers of “Happy Repeal Day” and “drink a beer to celebrate the end of Prohibition.” Bars and bottle shops hosted tastings and offered specials to commemorate December 5, 1933. What most craft beer enthusiasts fail to realize, however, is that beer became legal in the United States much earlier that same year on March 22.
To be more accurate, that date marks the legalization of some beer. The 18th Amendment, which was ratified in 1918, never defined “intoxicating liquors” or provided penalties for violating its mandates. The amendment left these details to Congress and the states to decide. Consequently, the House and Senate, overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, enacted the Volstead Act in 1919, which defined “intoxicating liquors” as any beverage having more than 0.5% alcohol by volume (“ABV”).
Several years later, the relaxation of Prohibition laws were a major part of the Democratic Party’s platform during the 1932 election. More specifically, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to amend the cap on alcoholic beverages in the Volstead Act from 0.5% ABV to 3.2% ABV, a number that corresponded with the ABV of most pre-Prohibition beer. A quick vote by the House and Senate led to FDR signing this legislation, called the Beer and Wine Revenue Act, on March 22, 1933. The Act created hundreds of new brewery jobs and raised millions in tax revenue in just a few days and was followed by the repeal of Prohibition all together on December 5.
While celebrating the legalization of all beer, regardless of its ABV (unless your state still has a cap), was all good and fun yesterday, the passage of the Beer and Wine Revenue Act on March 22 was just as momentous an occasion in beer history because it acted as the gateway to the unbridled ABVs of today—from Abner Drury Brewery’s 3.2% ABV beer in the age of the New Deal to Brewdog‘s 55% ABV freeze-distilled The End of History in 2010.
Next year, in addition to Repeal Day, International IPA Day, International Stout Day, and any other holiday created as a justification to drink beer (as if you need a reason), I plan to celebrate “Beer and Wine Revenue Act Day” on March 22. It may be difficult to find beer today containing 3.2% ABV or less, but lower-alcohol beers have become more popular lately, with Mikkeller releasing its 2.4% ABV Drink’in the Sun and Jester King introducing its Le Petit Prince Farmhouse Table Beer at 2.8% ABV.
Regardless of what day it is, I’m happy that I can legally buy craft beer at my local bottle shop to enjoy in the comfort of my own home and glad that I’m able to share a pint with friends at the bar down the street without the fear of being arrested. I also thank FDR and others for not limiting me to 0.5% ABV beer.