Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This Day in Booze: Brew Year's Eve

Today is a very special day in history. No, it's not 50 cent wings at your favorite BBQ place. Nor is it your anniversary, which you unceasingly seem to forget. Today is a special day because it marks the end of Prohibition.

"Wait a minute?!? Didn't Prohibition ended of December 5th?" you ask. Well, not exactly. December 5th marks the the appeal of the 18th Amendment, with the ratification of the 21st. A great Amendment. My personal favorite. But how is it that Prohibition ended nearly 8 months earlier. It's all thanks to the Cullen-Harrison Act. The Cullen-Harrison Act was drafted by congress and signed by President Roosevelt in early 1933. This federal act modified the definition of "intoxicating liquids", and allowed the manufacture and sale of beer with less than 3.2% alcohol content by weight and certain light wines. On April 7th 1933, two weeks after signing the Act, the very first “legal” beer in 13 years was delivered to the White House, to commemorate the special day. Beer was finally able to be sold legally in 19 of the 48 states and the District of Columbia. Over 1.5 million barrels of beer were consumed within the first 24 hours.

That, my friends, marks the true end of Prohibition. Of course, not all types of alcohol were permitted yet, but you could still walk into a bar and legally order a nice cold beer. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to share in the celebration. By the time National Prohibition was enacted in 1920, many States already had their own prohibition laws in effect. When the 21st Amendment was ratified, the right to govern alcohol use was turned back over to the States. Many of those States would take several more years to repeal their own individual prohibition laws. The State of Mississippi held out all the way to 1966 before repealing their prohibition. Kansas, one of the first states to enact its own prohibition in 1881, disallowed the sale of liquor "by the drink" until 1987. To this day, you'll still find many dry counties when traveling through some of our more southern States (the Bible Belt). Hell! I was in Franklin County Alabama last year and had to drive two counties north before I could find a drop of legal alcohol. Note, I said "legal".

That is why we celebrate April 7th as the end of Prohibition. Because on that day, across much of the United States, people flocked in mass to any place they could find a cold one. In fact, there is one local Pittsburgh man who can honestly say he's been there to provide the great libation every step of the way. Angelo Cammarata, of Cammarata's Cafe in West View, holds the Guinness world record for the longest serving bartender. Mr. Cammarata just turned 95, and has been serving beer ever since 12:01AM that special day, when he poured his first beer at his fathers grocery store soda fountain-turned-bar. Surprisingly, he doesn't drink beer. His dad once told him "Beer is not made to drink, it's made to sell." However, Angelo does have himself a bourbon and coke every day, so I think we can let him slide.

This is the Beer Drinkers Holiday, and it deserves to be celebrated. The Brewer's Association, a national trade organization, has officially designated April 7th as Brew Year's Eve, and first celebrated it last year on the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. So I don't care who you are, what you're doing, where you live. I don't care if it's at home alone, out with friends, or at your corner dive bar. You make sure you toss back a cold one today. 13 years of sobriety demand it. I for one plan on heading down to Cammarata's Cafe to get a drink from the "Great Pourer." Let's ring in year 76 with a bang!


  1. I'll see you there in about 30 minutes!

  2. Angelo looked great, the place was packed but very friendly, the beer was cold and crisp, it was an awesome time! I wish that place was closer to where I live, it's just a little too far for regular visitation. Richard took us on quite the impromptu tour of... wherever the hell that was.