Tracing the Origin of Green Beer

How this popular St. Patrick's Day tradition came to be

Tracing the Origin of Green Beer

It's funny — Google "St. Patrick's Day" and "green beer" and just like that, links to dozens of recipes, videos too, appear. Search instead for the origin of this now-prolific holiday tradition and the applicant pool narrows significantly. And even then, a glance at some of the most promising headlines leave you empty-handed, more often than not, linking to — you guessed it — another recipe.

You begin to suspect that one might have better luck locating that elusive pot o' gold. But in all seriousness, how exactly did this love child between light beer and blue food coloring come to be?

Sources are pretty unanimous in pegging this as an American-borne invention (cue the eye-rolls and snarky refrains bemoaning those "awful Americans"). Just consider the challenge of dyeing Guinness green — kidding. Interestingly, some of the earliest references to green beer have nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day or the color green. Instead, the term was used to reference beer that was not sufficiently aged. 

Actual green beer? That seems to have appeared a little later, with many claiming that it got its start in Boston or New York. A newspaper article from 1914 describes a New York social club serving green beer at a celebratory St. Patrick's Day dinner. In it, the invention is attributed to one Dr. Curtin, a coroner's physician who achieved the effect by putting a drop of "wash blue" dye in a certain quantity of beer. As for the link between the color green and Ireland, most chalk it up the lush landscape that earned the country's nickname, "The Emerald Isle." 

The trend had definitely caught on by the 1950's. You can find several mentions of it in recaps of raucous St. Paddy's Day festivities. Incidentally, it is also in this decade, 1952 to be exact, that the students at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio instituted the tradition of Green Beer Day. Occurring every year on the Thursday before the school's spring break, the event apparently acts as "their alternative St. Patrick's Day," since the holiday falls during the vacation time. 

Perhaps more interesting, however, will be to see how this tradition evolves in the wake of growing trends like craft beer. In 2005, Dogfish Head released their own homage to the drink, a draft called Verdi Verdi Good, which was brewed with green spirulina algae — green beer goes au naturel.