Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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Happy Repeal Day

In quite literally the last days of the 20th century, a hundred or so of us gathered in an old VFW hall just outside Chicago. My old friend Eric had gotten married and we were there to celebrate. On the wall behind the bar were pinned decades worth of yellowed and stiff permits allowing alcohol to be served for one-time events; weddings, Christmas parties, holidays.

Because you can: have a drink.
I was struck by the serendipity — and the opening for a toast. Eric and his bride, through sheer unplanned coincidence, had selected December 5th as their wedding date. Savvy drinkers mark the date now, but our current cocktail revival was years away then and this day, now celebrated as Repeal Day, was scarcely known. My impromptu speech (that went surprisingly well) noted that the accretion of permits and the Champagne in our hands were possible because on that date, in 1933, Americans had put an end to the disastrous experiment known as Prohibition.

Bar man and blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler puts the importance of the date succinctly:
On December 5th, 1933, Utah, the final state needed for a three quarters majority, ratified the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition and restoring the American right to a celebratory drink.
And so we did celebrate that day, first with Champagne and later with gin and tonic (which later still led to what became dubbed the Pants Dance). He goes on:
The thirteen years of Prohibition were a dark time for the United States, as the criminalization of alcohol led not only to a rise in civil delinquency and organized crime, but also to the loss of customs associated with the production, preparation, and consumption of alcohol.
We celebrate Repeal Day because December 5th marks a return to the rich traditions of craft fermentation and distillation, the legitimacy of the American bartender as a contributor to the culinary arts, and the responsible enjoyment of alcohol as a sacred social custom.
So you don't know Eric and don't give a damn about his anniversary? There's still Repeal Day to celebrate. How, though? Why, it couldn't be easier: have a drink. Morgenthaler lays it out:
There are no outfits to buy, costumes to rent, rivers to dye green. Simply celebrate the day by stopping by your local bar, tavern, saloon, winery, distillery, or brewhouse and having a drink. Pick up a six-pack on your way home from work. Split a bottle of wine with a loved one. Buy a shot for a stranger. Just do it because you can.
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