National Beer Day in Granite Falls seemed to go by relatively unnoticed which some might find surprising considering this town’s unique connection to the frosty beverage. Call it something of an “unofficial” holiday. And if you’re just learning about this now, you did, in fact, miss out on National Beer Day. Celebrated annually on April 7 – marking the day in 1933 when people could once again buy, make and drink beer - following the beginning of the end of, you guessed it, prohibition. Contrary to belief, the end didn’t happen in one fell swoop.
It was a process that began with the Cullen-Harrison Act which permitted the consumption of beer. After being signed into law by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt he famously stated, “I think it would be a good time for a beer.” Needless to say, April 7, 1933 was filled with celebration and the consumption of five million barrels of beer – as it could be purchased for the first time in thirteen years.
“National Beer Day is celebrated all over the U.S. and in some towns it’s a huge deal,” said Granite Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Gillespie. “We’re sitting on top of a gold mine, yet the opportunity isn’t being fully realized.” So why the “gold mine” of opportunity? That’s because no other community has a tie to the history of prohibition quite like Granite Falls does. What other town can boast of a former famous resident, a Republican representative from Minnesota, who happened to be a driving force behind the National Prohibition Act (popularly known as the Volstead Act), which was written to provide enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment, one that was repealed in 1933 by the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, marking the only instance in United States history that a constitutional amendment was repealed in its entirety.
Besides that, Granite Falls is home to a bevy of locations that are uniquely associated with the prohibition era. Would you believe even the Granite Falls Popcorn stand is even one of them? The original popcorn stand got its start in the 1920s, and nearly one century later is still in operation. A nostalgic stop for many on summer nights, known far and wide for some pretty good popcorn. And, one other thing, 1919 Root Beer. Not only is this beverage’s name derived of the Prohibition era, its recipe was invented by a former Granite Falls resident. Today, Schell’s Brewery produces the 1919 Root Beer which is only distributed in kegs, of which the Kiwanis Popcorn Stand volunteers serve up countless cups.
Just across the street the informational plaque on the wall at F&M is a reminder that Andrew Volstead’s law office was once located in the upstairs. The beautifully renovated space once bustled with activity and was the scene of the famous 1926 Time Magazine cover which featured Andrew Volstead. The original bar in the former Bootlegger’s Supper Club, was once a speakeasy - located near Wegdahl at a place called Skunk Hollow. It was moved to its current location around 1950 with the southernmost addition added then. If those walls could talk.
Even the very location of the municipal liquor store is rooted in prohibition. When Yellow Medicine County voted to remain dry, the folks in Chippewa County did not. Thus, the liquor store was, and still is, on the Chippewa side of the Minnesota River. It’s a simple fact, like it or not, that beer is great for the economy. According to the Beer Institute, more than two million Americans earn their livelihoods thanks to beer – farming grains and other ingredients, working in retail outlets that sell beer, brewing beer, and so on.
And with the rise of breweries beer variety and quality have never been better. The economic impact of beer in the U.S. totaled more than 252 billion in 2014. “There’s room for a multitude of viewpoints when it comes to the history of Granite Falls and beer,” stated Granite Falls EDA Director, Cathy Anderson. “Prohibition and Andrew Volstead are hot topics in today’s craft beer market and craft beer is hotter now than ever in history.” With that she offers a bit of historical data as it pertains to craft beer, “In 1873 there were just over four thousand breweries in the US, and by 1920 there were zero.” Anderson went on to say, by the end of 2016 the industry made quite the rebound and exceeded its own “hay day” with an astonishing 5,301 craft beer breweries scattered throughout the United States.
And, the experts say it’s only expected to grow. The Brewers Association, which represents America’s craft beer movement, reports that in the past two years alone, 1,883 breweries have emerged. As the economic development director, one of Anderson’s duties is to assist Granite Falls in economic growth. “I feel that a craft brewery would have an amazing impact on Granite Falls…one thing for sure, craft beer sells, and it sells at an unprecedented rate.” She went on to note that craft breweries have a diehard following and that craft beer drinkers who travel, like she and her husband, always stop at the local brewery while visiting an area.
And with a little digging, or sometimes not so much, countless stories of Granite Falls’ unique prohibition history continues to reveal a legacy that other communities seemingly would love to have, especially when considering the number of establishments found throughout the U.S. that are inspired by it. Yet, that unique history belongs to the community of Granite Falls – and whether or not that potential becomes fully embraced, only time will tell. “Now that I’m in Granite Falls National Beer Day takes on new form…being able to celebrate in Andrew Volstead’s hometown is ironic.” As Anderson asks, “Can you imagine partaking in even a small slice of the craft beer boom?”