Green beer in a Guiness cup. Sacrilege? Possibly.
Green beer in a Guiness cup. Sacrilege? Possibly.
Photo by Leyla.a

What's The Big Deal With Green Beer?

It's almost St. Patrick's Day, and that means men and women (or perhaps, shall we say, college students and aging bros?) across America will be pounding green beer. Some consider it a tradition, and others an abomination.  Here in Houston, numerous block parties and bar shindigs will feature the green brew, but some bars will pay the drink absolutely no mind at all. So why do people go so crazy over the stuff, while others abhor it so?

The origin of green beer itself seems like some dreadful 1950s Americana thing, on par with Jell-O salad-level kitschiness, but the first recorded mention of green beer actually dates back 1910 when a description of it appeared in a Spokane, Washington newspaper of all places. However, the invention of the drink is most commonly attributed to a physician and professor Dr. Thomas Hayes Curtin, who in 1914 reportedly held a St. Patrick's Day party at a New York social club and served a beer that he dyed green using a heavily diluted blue wash detergent. It was a hit, one that still persists, just with food dye instead of creepy turn of the century bleach product.

These days bars can order kegs that have been pre-dyed green or do it themselves. Lucky's Pub downtown will serve over 50 kegs of green beer that's dyed in house (and about 150 kegs between all of its locations) at its St. Patrick's Day event.  "But we only serve it for a portion of the time," says manager Travis Adair. That's so his bar doesn't get stuck with extra kegs of green beer that nobody wants to drink after St. Patrick's Day.

The beer is dyed using an injector that's able to push down on a ball bearing and allow the dye to enter the keg without losing any product, or, you know, making the keg explode under pressure or something.  

Peace, love and green beer bros.
Peace, love and green beer bros.
Photo by Yuri Pena

Meanwhile, Irish Cowboy, which along with 3rd Floor and Pub Fiction, hosts a huge St. Patrick's festival in Midtown, now in its seventh annual year, opts for pre-dyed beer from the distributor and also dyes some in house.  "We'll go through 130 kegs easy," Daut Elshani, marketing manager for the bar, tells the Press. They use Bud Light as their dyed beer of choice, and if there are kegs left over after the three day festival, Irish Cowboy will run a special on green beer up to a week after the event. "People always buy it," he says.

This year, Elshani anticipates that 45,000 people will attend the Midtown celebration over the course of the weekend, and with 120 draws off of some 130 kegs, and a $6 asking price for a pint, well... that's approximately $93.6k, all thanks to green Bud Light, folks.  It's the bar's best selling booze on St. Patrick's Day with Jameson coming in a measly, distant second.

Asked if craft beer has had any part in diminishing people's interest in green beer, the answer from both Lucky's and Irish Cowboy is a resounding no. It's as popular as ever.

"At Christmas you get egg nog, at Easter you get eggs, and at St. Patrick's Day you get green beer," Adair says.

Elshani looks at it another way: "People who are generally drinking craft beer, late thirties, that demographic, are not ever going to go for the green beer."  He also believes that the weather in Houston could be another reason that so much green beer is consumed on St. Paddy's. "Sometimes it's just too hot for a stout or true Irish beer. Green beer is light and refreshing."

A cold pint for purists.
A cold pint for purists.
Photo by David Dennis

As for haters of green beer,  you can all take comfort in the fact that come March 17, there are plenty of bars sharing the same sentiment— that green beer has nothing to do with Ireland at all. The owners of McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Rusty and Teresa Andrews, are two people who are staunchly against green beer and know how to throw one hell of a St. Patrick's Day party.

"Green is a such a perfect color for lettuce or Jell-O or money," Rusty Andrews says. "But not so much for beer. Way back when we first opened the Duck the beer guys asked how many kegs would we like dyed green for Saint Patrick’s Day. None please, but thank you."

The venue has been the recipient of the St. James Gate Perfect Pint certificate from Guinness and even has its own shirts which you'll likely see out and about at its big event on Friday:  “Irish beer is black not green."

This year, maybe we should all just stick with whiskey instead.

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