St. Patrick's Day is almost upon us. A day to celebrate the man who drove those pagan snakes out of Ireland with his message of Christianity. A day where Irish Americans show their pride with parades, and feasts, and music, and...green beer? Yes, for the people who don goofy green hats and "Kiss Me I'm Irish" t-shirts and wear green beads hanging from their necks, green beer is a March 17 must. But where did green beer come from? Eater surveyed local bartenders and pub owners to get their take on the custom, and one thing is certain: green beer is definitely an American thing. But where and how did it start?
"I would imagine New York. That would be my guess," Paschal McMahon, manager of Irish Channel, said of green beer's origins. "I worked in New York and everybody drank green beer for years and years and years." Other bartenders are convinced it's a Boston thing.
"I'm going to blame some college kid who put green dye in the beer to look cool," said Jason Kazaitis, a bartender at Nanny O'Brien's.
"The green signifies the Irish shamrock," said Jody Taylor, owner of The Black Rooster. Taylor remembers many DC pubs in the 1970s who served up the dyed elixir, but due to problems with green-stained draft beer lines and bartender's hands, the trend has fallen off, he said.
Greg Meehan, a patron at Murphy's Grand Irish Pub in Alexandria, also sees a tie to Ireland in the custom. The Irish "drop a shamrock into their beer or whiskey and drink it down" for luck after special events, such as a horse race, parade or even "a good fight at the bar," Meehan said. "At least that is what I've heard."
Mark McElkerney, general manager at RiRa Irish Pub, said the green probably symbolized Ireland's lush countryside, but he added, "We would never serve green beer at an Irish pub. It is an insult...But we are serving black beer."
The Dubliner and Sixth Engine's Gavin Coleman has a more cynical take on the tradition. "It's a good reason to sell cheap beer," he said; his haunts will not be serving the liquid. In fact, his family owns Coleman's Authentic Irish Pub in Syracuse where there is a festival each year on the day the tanker truck brings in the green beer and a parade to celebrate it.
Colm Dillon, owner of Ireland's Four Provinces in Falls Church, could not recall any Irish pubs in the DC area ever serving green beer in his 30 years in the business. "I guess we are purists," he said. But that doesn't mean he knocks it. "There is no right way on St. Patrick's Day. It has just got to be fun."
For those who find the custom festive rather than ridiculous, here are some places to find green beer this holiday season.