On St. Patrick’s Day everything turns green: cookies, bagels, ice cream, and best of all, beer. St Patrick’s Day is already a big day of imbibing in a glass or two (or three or four) of Guinness, so why not make light beer green as well? Green beer is a respectable alternative for those who aren’t into the heaviness of Guinness but are staying festive.
At some point during the festivities, one might wonder “where did green beer come from?” as he/she orders a round at the bar. And to that I respond “from a coroner.” Not quite what you were expecting, right?
According to several sources, green beer was first introduced in 1914 during a St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the Schnerer Club in New York City by Dr. Curtin, a Coroner's physician. T he good doctor used a drop of Blue Wash in an undisclosed quantity of beer. Back then, Blue Wash was a bluing agent used for dying fabrics and probably not what you want to use in your home brewing kit. I’d suggest blue food coloring instead, just to be safe.
However, there is also an account of green beer being drunk at a celebration a few years earlier in Washington State. A 1910 edition of the Spokane Press announced beneath the headline “GREEN BEER BE JABBERS!” that there was “at least one bar in town today that is reminding the thirsty that it is the Sivententh of March, God Rist His Sowl.” No word on how that Washington barman dyed his drink. No recipe and the beverage must not have made much of an impression, as Dr. Curtin is still recognized as the one who introduced green beer to the St. Patty’s drinking scene.
If you want to get authentic with the tradition of green beer, here it is. Back in Ireland, people used to drop a shamrock in their beer, then down the beverage and shamrock to bring good luck. This custom is called “drowning the shamrock”. Seems rather appropriate.
At the opposite end of spectrum, far from the bar crawls and parades, green beer isn’t always a good thing. Green Beer is a term still used today to describe beer that’s too young, or “green." Green beer still contains acetaldehyde, which can make beer taste bad, because it’s not yet fully fermented. Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, some breweries created campaigns warning consumers against the dangers of drinking green beer. In 1922, the Washing Times quoted a chemist who said “green beer is extremely bad on the stomach." These days brewers worry less about green beer, as beer production is better understood and more regulated.
So there you have it. A very brief history of green beer just in time for all your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Cheers!