Photo by Khara Woods on Unsplash
By Liz Crowe
Welcome, Brick Readers, to your monthly advice/education/breaking with the monthly theme content, also known as Booze 101. It’s March. So we’re going to talk about this month’s holiday.
Part I: Let’s discuss a few common myths.
- This Patrick guy was born in Ireland, destined to be its patron saint.
- St. Patrick chased all the snakes out of Ireland.
- St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to drink too much, usually on a weekday.
- Wearing green is mandatory on St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s the official start of beer-drinking season.
Allow me to address each of these one by one:
- The dude’s name was not Patrick. It was Maewyn Succat. He was English, but sold in Ireland as a slave in the fifth century AD after his family’s estate was attacked by Irish pirates (you heard that right — Irish. Pirates). He escaped after six years back to England, went to Catholic school, then returned later to Ireland as a missionary. He changed his name to “Patricius,” which of course means we call him “Patrick,” when he became a priest. It means “father,” not “drink heavily in my honor in March.” Getting to that part.
- There were no snakes to drive out. Ireland is an island; scientific rumor has it that there never have been and never will be snakes on Ireland. However, if you’re a good Sunday school student like me, you know that, in Christianity, snakes and serpents have always represented evil. When young Maewyn returned to Ireland, it was polytheistic — that is to say, they worshipped many gods. Without getting into the fairly practical nature of this, it was his role as a missionary to rid them of this apparent misconception about the Power That Was. Taking a step back, it is said that a vision convinced him to return to the land that had imprisoned him; he declared that Ireland had spoken with one voice, coming to him in a vision saying, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” So he did. And he drove out those pesky other gods, which is likely why he’s attributed with driving snakes out of a snake-less island — i.e., he brought Christianity with him.
- St. Patrick’s Day is in honor of the day Patricius died. By pure coincidence, this falls smack in the middle of Lent, which is a time many Catholics and others abstain from stuff, including alcohol. The fasting and whatnot during Lent is meant to allow for reflection upon the upcoming holiday Easter, wherein you eat chocolate eggs laid by big scary rabbits who sit on chairs in malls.
Okay, relax. I know what it’s for. I’m a preacher’s kid. Anyways, since this does fall during the abstemious season for so many, thanks to his helpful driving out of anything but belief in one version of religion, these folks were sort of between a Blarney Stone and a hard place. The solution? A single day’s worth of no Lent! Ergo: drink (and eat, but mostly drink) to your heart’s content! The day itself is now celebrated in many countries, but we Americans have brought it to the next level. Which brings me to…
- The green-wearing and beer-drinking have separate explanations. First, the green. It’s believed that good ol’ Patricius née Maewyn used the shamrock clover, one of Ireland’s native plants, to teach his new converts about the Trinity — you know, one leaf each for the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. When their favorite priest died and was sanctified, people wore the shamrocks on their clothing to honor him, while breaking their newly-minted Lent vows. This eventually evolved into wearing green or risking a pinch — probably in America, because we love rules.
As for the holiday being the official start of beer-drinking season, I’m going with that being gospel. We imbibe over the holidays, toast the new year with too much bubbly, and go off the sauce in the winter to rest our livers, do our taxes, and regain control over messy closets and whatnot. Why not kick off a new year of drinking with a detoxed system in mid-March? Detox so you can re-tox, I always say.
Part II: The beer most commonly affiliated with it is NOT GREEN.
Allow me to repeat this: the beer you should drink to honor the memory of the English guy who was a slave-turned-missionary priest who brought Christianity to Ireland is not green. Green beer is not a thing. It is yellow beer with food coloring. Don’t do it. I mean I rarely insist on things, Dear Brick Reader, but I’m going to on this one. Don’t drink green beer.
Instead, allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite beer, the dry Irish stout. This could come with its own set of myths and myth-busting, but I’ll spare you that. However, the history is interesting, and like many popular modern booze histories, is linked to the taxation of ingredients, which led to a style that is one of the most widely-brewed throughout the world.
Dry stout began life as an English porter. Proper porters were brewed entirely with brown malt, and emerged in pubs in the early 18th century. Brewed to a multitude of strengths, “stout porter” was merely the stronger version. Eventually, “stouts” became a style rather than an adjective and were mostly brewed in London and Dublin. When Arthur Guinness opened his brewery at St. James Gate in Dublin, is was conveniently located next to the Grand Canal, which gave him easy access to the materials and ingredients he needed, both incoming and outgoing. More on his savviness later.
Black patent malt became available in 1819 thanks to a way-cool invention by Daniel Wheeler, which allowed beers to be brewed that were darker in color without adding anything that might change the actual flavor. The “patent” in the name reflects that he was granted a British Patent 4112 for his invention, the Drum Malt Roaster, which allowed maltsters to roast malt to the point where a small amount of malt could darken a large amount of beer without imparting an overly burnt or tarry taste to the entire brew. Prior to this, dark brown was as about as dark as dark beers got. By 1828, Guinness had replaced their entire stock of brown malt with black patent malt, and their own stout porter started eliciting competition from other notable breweries such as Beamish, Crawford, and Murphy’s.
By the mid-1800s, Guinness products could be found from the United States to New Zealand, and were called single stout (porter), double stout (extra stout), and foreign extra stout. They continued to innovate, adding flaked barley in the ‘50s and introducing the “draught” (pronounced “draft,” not like the condition where there is no rain for a long time) system in 1959. Thanks to this innovation, we get to have the Guinness Experience when this beer is properly poured, which is both visual and contextual — a.k.a. the dancing bubbles all through the glass, and the dry yet exceptionally smooth drinking experience.
Fun fact: this combination of carbon dioxide with nitrogen allowed the brewer to combine newer beers with old, flatter ones to create a brand new drinking experience. This was also something that gave brewers the option not to waste older inventory. The Guinness family is credited with a lot of things, including a savvy use of new ingredients, super-cheap rent (they have a 9,000-year lease on their building for the equivalent of $1), inventory rotation methods, and marketing. Plus, their beer is excellent.
I’m lucky enough to have been able to visit St. James Gate with my family several years ago, during the years we lived near London. We will skip the part where my three kids believed that all vacations with Mom and Dad involved liquor in some form; I’ll tell you about our trip to Scotland another time. Anyways, it’s a killer brewery tour, and no matter how good a pour you might get at your favorite Irish pub stateside, there truly is nothing like one poured right from the source, fresh as a shamrock, so to speak.
- The abbreviation is St. Patty’s, NOT St. Paddy’s. Sorry, had to throw that in along with a reminder that drinking green beer is GROSS and has nothing to do with the actual celebration of Ireland’s snake-killing patron saint who wears green and dances a jig at the end of the rainbow while throwing gold coins… Oh. Wait. Okay. I get it. Drink it if you must. But at least understand the reason you’re doing it.
- The best way to cap off your day of drinking on the 17th (which will be on a Tuesday this year) is a shot of Jameson’s Irish Whisky, but spare me the argument about chasing that with pickle juice…shudders…
- Guinness is excellent. Be sure to get it poured by someone who knows how to do it, as it’s a skill much different from any other beer dispensing. In Ann Arbor, I highly recommend the experts at Conor O’Neill’s. Get some of their Irish stew while you’re at it. I’ll be there this year. Hope to see you!
“There are only two kinds of people in the world: the Irish and those who wish they were.”
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, beer and wine consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects. She helped found and is the current president of Fermenta Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and employment of women in the fermented industries.
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