Sunday, March 25, 2007

Onward April

Say sayonara to March.

Yeah, we know we’re a week early, but trust us, April’s full of promise, and we’re not just talking about Opening Day or the Masters Tournament.

For the record, April brings observances as diverse as National Humor Month, National Guitar Week (rave on!), Stress Awareness Month (Rx for calm: have a beer), National Lingerie Week (ooh-la-la!) and even TV Turn-Off Week (is this where everyone on American Idol and Survivor gets voted off by the remote control?).

But this, of course, is about beer, and April delivers.

There’s the pairing of great beer and food at the Brewer’s Plate event in Philly (Climax and Flying Fish will be pouring at the Reading Terminal Market) on April 1st. (Update: $50 general admission tickets have sold out; there are still some premium tickets available, the $100 Brew Master's Lounge passes.)

April also brings another ray of sunshine, this time from the banks of the Delaware, when River Horse Brewing begins serving up its Summer Blonde Ale for a fifth year. This light-bodied, medium-hopped beauty (Hallertauer and Fuggle hops and a spot of wheat; 4% ABV) has become a big seller for River Horse, rivaling the Lambertville brewer’s flagship Hop Hazard Pale Ale.

At the end of the month, look for River Horse’s barbecue and beer garden at the annual Shad Fest in Lambertville (April 28th-29th). Practically anyone who lives around that western notch in New Jersey can tell you the annual Shad Fest is a big happenin’. And if you’ve never been to cozy, scenic Lambertville, it’s worth the daytrip to Hunterdon County.

Meanwhile, get out the Sharpie and circle April 7th on the calendar. Then pour a beer and be thankful. That date 74 years ago marked the return of legal beer (in the strength of 4% ABV, 3.2% by weight) in the U.S., the initial steps toward repealing Prohibition.

Fittingly, the first public delivery of newly legal beer went to the White House to salute Prohibition foe FDR. In New Jersey at the hour of libation liberation, Newark's Krueger Brewery, one of they city's many brewhouses, was the only one ready to strike a mash. (See Old Newark for more details on New Jersey under temperance's thumb.) Prohibition became a complete footnote to U.S. history by December 1933. So essentially, April 7th and beer were to Prohibition what the collapse of the Berlin Wall in '89 was to communism across eastern Europe.

(Some places we found put the date as April 6th, with beer becoming legal again at the stroke of midnight. But since this isn't Final Jeopardy! we're not going to quibble. And by the by, our depiction of FDR ale is totally fictional. Maybe a homebrewer or pro brewer somewhere could pay such homage, if it hasn't been done already.)

Thus in the beer world in America, this really is a holiday. Craft brewers as a group have been celebrating the day since 2003. And the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the national trade organization of the craft beer industry, is again marking the date with Brew Year’s Eve celebrations. A quick scan of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild calendar (or news page) didn't find the date highlighted. (Fear not, check out PJ Whelihan's pubs for a Brew Year's Eve observance. Looks like they're doing it on the 6th, though; best call beforehand).

Nevertheless, this is an observance in which you can take matters into your own pint-glass gripping hands.

Go to your favorite bar or brewpub and order a round. Go to your local package goods store, grab a six (or, what the hell, a keg; have a party), and toast three generations of legal beer. Take a tour of a brewery (and bring up the significance of the day to the kind tour guides, if they don't).

And keep an eye on A&E Television Network, which will air a new documentary (by Ken Burns and Roger Sherman) on April 7th, “The American Brew: The Rich and Surprising History of Beer in America.” The film is an overview of why beer and liquor went outlaw, what happened in the U.S. as a result, and why the Prohibition genie was put back in the bottle.