New Beer’s Eve: The Ultimate Post-Prohibition Party

By Debra Kelly on Friday, March 21, 2014
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“To alcohol! The cause of–and solution to–all of life’s problems.” —Homer Simpson, Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment (1997)

In A Nutshell

Prohibition caused a whole host of problems for the United States, and when it ended on April 7, 1933, the streets were packed with people celebrating. April 6 was affectionately known as New Beer’s Eve, and at midnight, alcohol returned to the streets. New Beer’s Eve is still sporadically celebrated, along with the weird history of the end of Prohibition.

The Whole Bushel

Americans have just had enough time to recover from St. Patrick’s Day festivities when there’s another excuse to drink a night away—New Beer’s Eve. April 6 is the occasionally celebrated end of Prohibition; as of midnight in 1933, sales of alcohol and liquor were once again legal in the United States (even though many states imposed their own guidelines on just when and where that sale was).

Some breweries in the United States still celebrate New Beer’s Eve, but present-day celebrations are nothing like the original. Prohibition had been in full swing for well over a decade, not only outlawing alcohol but making America a hotbed of politics, pitting those of the Temperance movement against the so-called “wets.” Fortunately for the dry country, newly elected president Franklin Delano Roosevelt—along with his party—was of the pro-alcohol mindset.

At midnight on New Beer’s Eve, breweries that had been forced out of business—or forced to change their business to survive—were once again able to throw open their doors and serve alcohol. The evening before, crowds gathered in the street to sing, dance, and (we imagine) drink in the handful of states that had ratified the repeal of Prohibition.

(Strangely, it took Mississippi until 1966 to repeal its Prohibition laws.)

In the first 24 hours of Prohibition’s official repeal, thirsty Americans bought more than 1.5 million barrels of beer. In the first 48 hours, $25 million was pushed back into circulation solely to the alcohol industries. Since 1920, it had been only alcohol-free “near-beer” that had been legally available, and clearly, people missed their real beer.

Not only were they welcoming back their beer, but it was going to be different beer. With the enactment of the Cullen-Harrison Act, the legal alcohol limit in beer was raised from 0.5 percent to 3.2 percent. It was still only mild, quickly brewed beer that came through the gates of breweries on New Beer’s Eve, but the celebrants had so much to be grateful for that we’re guessing they didn’t even notice.

The repeal of Prohibition, the celebrations, and the significance of New Beer’s Eve wasn’t just about the return of everyone’s favorite alcoholic beverages, though. It was also a huge economic boost, and the re-opening of breweries across the country meant that on April 7, more than 50,000 jobs were reinstated—not just in breweries, but in related industries like farming and transportation. To a country that was still reeling from the Great Depression, that meant the difference between life and death for countless families.

New Beer’s Day is also the birth date of a globally known beer icon, the Budweiser Clydesdales. Known all over the world, the first team of Clydesdales was a group of six horses that were presented to August Busch Sr. by his sons to celebrate the rebirth of their family business. The horses’ first stop was the Empire State Building, where they presented New York’s governor with an alcoholic token of appreciation for his support. Later, the team also headed to Washington, D.C. to present the president with his case as well.

Show Me The Proof

CNN: New Beer’s Eve: Happy days were here again
History Channel: Prohibition ends
Anheuser-Busch: Budweiser Clydesdales