You may be surprised to learn that this quirky St. Paddy’s Day tradition is not Irish at all. Yep, you heard that right. Green beer is actually American. Rumor has it that the world’s first introduction to green beer happened in 1914. In preparation for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner at the Schnerer Club in New York City, mastermind Dr. Thomas Hayes Curtin decided the best way to make his event more festive would be to make absolutely everything green – including the beer! But the physician’s secret ingredient was just as shocking to partygoers as the color of the beer – a laundry whitener called “Wash Blue.”
While many were concerned about the potential health risks of his concoction, Curtin assured them that because the solution was added to the beer in a small enough quantity, the blue dye it contained would successfully tint the beer green without causing his guests any illness. Ironically, “green beer” had previously been used to describe “young” beer that had not been fully fermented and could make consumers sick. Despite the addition of a potentially poisonous dye, Curtin’s guests were able to enjoy the festive drink completely unharmed. But what gave Curtin the inspiration to dye beer in the first place? There is reason to believe he may have received the idea from a mysterious article written in the Spokane Press circa March 17, 1910. The article divulged news of a bar on First Avenue in Spokane, Washington, that was serving green beer – though the bartender wouldn’t share how he made his concoction.
But why green? Green was not always the color associated with Ireland – let alone beer! In the 17th century, the color became a symbol of unity for the Irish people in their struggle against oppressive English rule. It was particularly important as a distinguisher between Catholics and Protestants in the country, where Catholics were represented in green and Protestants in orange. Of course, today Ireland’s flag proudly flies with green and orange colors, a stripe of white between the two to symbolize peace. Every March 17th, Irish people around the world celebrate St. Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland, for driving snakes off of the island – though this is really just an allegory for how he converted many Irish people to Christianity.