Meet the Godfather of National Beer Day
Thousands of beer lovers across America will celebrate today as National Beer Day, but unless you’ve seen this video from Buffalo Wild Wings–the birthplace of the holiday–you won’t know that the holiday resulted from the efforts of one man in particular.
The video celebrates Justin Smith, the “godfather” of National Beer Day, whose mustachioed visage is enshrined behind the bar. The video is comedic, but the photo (and mustache) are real–as was Smith’s role in starting the holiday, which has been celebrated since 2009.
We caught up with Smith to hear more about the historical significance of the holiday and how he plans to celebrate this year.
Can you tell us the inspiration for National Beer Day?
It was March the first of 2009. I was at Buffalo Wild Wings with my buddies Jason Billups and Mike Connolly, and this guy walks by on his way to the bathroom holding a beer and says, “Happy beer day.” Being a fan of history, when I got home I looked up why he was wishing us a happy National Beer Day on March 1. It’s an Icelandic holiday, celebrating the end of Prohibition over there.
My buddy Mike Connolly, who’s not even from the United States, he’s actually from Liverpool, England, said, “Hey, we should start a National Beer Day for America, it deserves to have its own National Beer Day.” Originally I told him it was a horrible idea. There are very few things I despise more than, let’s say someone’s favorite things are balloons, and their birthday is March 23, so they say March 23 is a National Balloon Day. There needs to be some kind of history, something that we’re recognizing here–especially on a federal level. A few months later, I said, “Look, I’ll do some research on the history, and if I can find a date that should be recognized as such, we’ll start a Facebook page or something.” It turns out in 1933, during the Prohibition era, there was a law signed called the Cullen-Harrison Act that allowed the sale of beer up to 4 percent ABV.
Untappd in 2011 started a badge for National Beer Day that really helped snowball the recognition. I was actually on Untappd’s podcast for National Beer Day just last week. [Editor’s Note: You can listen to that podcast here.] From there, my background is in law and public policy. I worked for the Virginia assembly, which is the Virginia state legislature, prior. I started reaching out to the governor and some different representatives there last year and was able to get a proclamation passed recognizing April 7 and this year house joint resolution 90 will officially recognize National Beer Day in the state of Virginia as of 2019 and every April 7 going forward. We’re currently working with some federal legislators to have it recognized officially nationwide. I’m not sure that’s going to result in a bank holiday where you get the day off and stay home and drink beer, but it’s nice to think.
The holiday’s grown tremendously over the years from a social media standpoint. What’s that been like to see?
It’s very awe-inspiring. It’s very humbling. I know last year National Beer Day was out-trending things like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. It’s taken over every year, just watching the social media and the internet trends. It’s a holiday that deserves recognition. Even if you don’t like beer, how many times in our country’s history has the government taken away a liberty and then said, “You know what, we were wrong. Have it back.” Even if you don’t like beer, yay freedom.
How do you typically celebrate? Do you have a standard thing you do every year, or does it change?
It really depends on what breweries locally or nationally are doing. This year I’ve had a few breweries I’ve worked with. One is Three Notch’d. I brewed kind of a two-part series with two different breweries to kind of tell the story of National Beer Day. I brewed an imperial coffee stout that’s going to be released on Friday, April 6, which is also referred to as New Beer’s Eve. On April 7, National Beer Day, I brewed a white stout to be released at Steam Bell Beer Works. It kind of tells the story of National Beer Day. Prior to April 7 with the passage and implementation of the Cullen-Harrison act it was dark times, a very imperialistic type of view of beer in America. Then you get to April 7, and we’re at the very end of a long, dark tunnel. The beers play off of each other with very similar flavors–coffee and chocolate notes–but two very distinct colors of beers. I also check to see if there are National Beer Day celebrations around Richmond to visit different breweries locally.
Do you have a favorite beer or style of beer?
It’s a very broad category, but it would be an American strong ale. Dogfish Head’s World Wide Stout has been one of my favorites for a very long time. As far as a beer that brought me into the beer scene and changed my mind on beer it would be a Legend Brown Ale, it’s a classic and something I usually have in my fridge. And then a current favorite of mine would be Triple Crossing’s Falcon Smash, that I actually drink every time I go to Buffalo Wild Wings when they have it on tap.