Green Beer – Beer Traditions

Green Beer. What comes to mind? Young beer? Beer with food coloring in it? Beer that gets you stoned? Eco friendly beer? Beer naturally colored with spirulina? What’s spirulina? There’s a lot of things it might mean. Here we will discuss the tradition of Green beer that has to do only with color.

Green Beer

This is a recent tradition associated most often with St. Patty’s day, although not in Ireland. From all accounts, Green Beer seems to be a tradition only in North America, where “Irish pride” tends to encompass a kind of enthusiasm verging on the overzealous. Especially in a college town called Oxford, Ohio, where college students take to the streets early for their “Green Beer Day”.

From Canada on down to Chicago, Boston, and points beyond, the St. Patty’s Day green beer fad has been seen, tasted, pissed out, and blacked out upon. Yes, I did say pissed out. Where do you expect all that green to go after you drink it? Well, it isn’t going to dye your hair. The first mention I could find of green beer in print has to do with Miami University’s Green Beer Day circa March 1952. According to the student newspaper Miami Student, March 14, 1952. "the day was celebrated by Oxford restaurants selling "traditional dark green beer" on March 17". Strangely enough, Miami University is not in Florida. It is located in Oxford, Ohio. Quite a confusing conglomeration of names, if you ask me.

Green Beer Day
Green Beer Day is a school tradition that leads into the University’s Spring Break. The Thursday before Spring break, students of all sorts with alcoholic tendencies start a pre-dawn pub crawl around 5:30 AM. This is the earliest pubs are allowed to serve beer legally in Ohio. Invariably, the local grocer must be completely dry of green food coloring by then, because pitcher after pitcher is served to the thirsty college crowds. Now, of course, Thursday BEFORE Spring break is a school day. This lead me to wonder – do the students go to class drunk? You could bet your bottom dollar on it. Rumor is that, one year, some teachers became fed up with the drunkenness in the classroom and therefore scheduled exams on Green Beer Day. Happily, the drunken solidarity of the students re-enforced the tradition even more, and the idea of giving exams on Green Beer Day was dropped.

The Green Beer Day tradition is not reserved only for the pubs, apparently. Restaurants in uptown are rumored to serve “green eggs and ham, green bagels with green cream cheese, and offer [strange] food specials throughout the day”, according to GreenBeerDay.com.

While I personally enjoy the chaos and hilarity of drunken antics, the Green Beer Day of Oxford, Ohio does have its detractors. It has, in fact, been called the “AMERICA’S DUMBEST COLLEGE TRADITION”, as the Zenformation Professional called it. Citing instances of sexual molestation and public vomiting, he points out the blatant and crude hedonism of the event. There are good and bad aspects to any huge celebration where people are getting completely wasted, of course. Vomit is usually one of them, as anyone who has been to a huge St. Patty’s day block party can attest.

To be fair to the other pursuants of the green beer tradition, I should like to point out that the Miami University tradition is uniquely alcoholic in nature. The event does not fall upon St. Patty’s Day, but is kind of a jumpstart for those festivities. Yet it lacks the nostalgia and cultural flair that is usually displayed on March 16th. It is somewhat difficult to feel anything but drunk when one has been drinking since 5:30 AM, I suppose. But green beer is a beer tradition that manifests in more places than just Oxford, Ohio.

Green Beer Recipe
Most recipes for green beer involve simply doctoring each pint with 5-6 drops of green food dye. For a bigger batch, say, a pitcher of beer, one would use between 20-24 drops, or about a tablespoon worth. If you are hosting a party, and seek to color the beer in a 6 gallon Cornelius keg, I would recommend 10 Tablespoons worth of dye.

But the brewers of Dogfish Head Brewery, of Delaware, have some different ideas regarding how to turn your beer green: a health food algae called spirulina. In 2005, Dogfish Head sold a draft only release – their “Verdi Verdi Good”, a green beer that was made without food coloring, but with the green spirulina algae as an all natural ingredient in the brew. The basis of the beer was a pale lager beer in the Dortmunder style, which is a somewhat bitter lager reminiscent of a pilsner. According to the Dogfish Head website, their inspiration actually came from an unusual place:

“The idea for the Dogfish Head version actually was born of beers already being produced in Southeast Asia, namely Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand. The main type of beer made in that area of the world is akin to the Dortmunder/Export type lagers of Germany. Both Myanmar and Thailand have breweries producing a beer which is their regular production lager with spirulina added. Hence, Verdi Verdi Good was born.”

Although popular in some parts of the U.S. and Canada, and, apparently Myanmar, you won’t be finding green beer in Ireland, or any of the British Isles. Most beer fans in Europe find the notion of putting dye into their ale abominable – and I can’t say I blame them for that. What most people don’t realize is that most brands of food coloring, even though non-toxic, are still petroleum products. I try to avoid unnecessary coloring in all foods, including beer. One of the biggest problems facing the green beer phenomenon is that the most Irish of drinks, Guinness, cannot be made to look green. Only very lightly colored ales can be given the treatment. Any amount of darkness in the ale, and the green makes it look like pond scum – not very appetizing for most humans. I say take a hint from the Irish and enjoy your beer the way it was intended. But if you really want the experience of pissing green, there is no better way to enjoy it than by quaffing down a couple of green beers.

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