Why you should reach for a 3.2% beer on National Beer Day


Today, April 7, is National Beer Day in America, but the date wasn’t plucked from the calendar at random—it marks one of the first major steps taken by the U.S. government to repeal Prohibition.

Schmidt Near Beer

From the beginning of Prohibition on January 16, 1920, to April 7, 1933, the only beer that could be purchased legally in the U.S. was “near beer,” which had 0.5% ABV or less // Photo via eBay

According to an article by beer writer Fred Eckhart, in June of 1932, then 12 years into Prohibition and leading up to a November presidential election, the Democratic party came out in support an eventual full repeal of Prohibition and an immediate modification of the law that would legalize the sale of beer with 3.2% alcohol by weight (4% alcohol by volume) or less. The party’s candidate, Franklin Roosevelt, was elected in November by an overwhelming majority, with a Democratic Congress to match.

While both houses of Congress passed the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition even before Roosevelt’s March 4th inauguration, the full repeal wouldn’t go into effect until December 5, 1933.

So as a stopgap, Roosevelt called a special session of Congress on March 21, 1933, to exempt 3.2% beer and low-alcohol wine from Prohibition. The measure, called the Cullen-Harrison Act, passed the same day and was immediately signed by Roosevelt, who upon signing is said to have uttered his famous quote, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” (States had to pass similar legislation to allow for the sale of 3.2% beer.) Brewers across country quickly got to work to ensure they had enough of the low-alcohol beer for the thirsty masses on the day the exemption went into effect: April 7, 1933.

According to Wikipedia, National Beer Day was first created in 2009 by Justin Smith of Richmond, Virginia, who created a Facebook page to promote the day. Smith’s promotion of the new holiday via various social media outlets was rewarded when Untappd created a National Beer Day badge that rewarded users that logged a beer on April 7th. The #NationalBeerDay hashtag has since become a trending topic on Twitter every year on April 7th.

A remnant of the Cullen-Harrison Act can be seen today in Minnesota and a handful of other states that prohibit the sale of beer above 3.2% in groceries stores and gas stations. As a result, many breweries produce 3.2% versions of their beer to fill those spots on the shelves. And in Utah, draft beer still cannot exceed 3.2% as one of our contributors recently learned on a four-day first date in the state.

The world of craft beer also has its share of low-alcohol beers, in some cases because the style calls for it, such as Berliner weisses, many of which are less than 3.2% alcohol by weight, and in other cases as a nod to brewing techniques from the past, like Anchor Brewing’s Small Beer:

So, whether the beer you reach for today is 3.2% or not, a hearty “Cheers!” from everyone at The Growler to your and yours.

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