St Patrick's Day, held on 17th March in celebration of Ireland's patron saint, is now celebrated around the world. Paddy's Day has for many become synonymous with drinking alcohol, but how much do you know about the origins of the holiday and its drinks?
Origins of St Patrick's Day
St Patrick's Day is held every year on 17th March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick. Patrick was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century. As a teenager he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland. After his escape, he later returned to Ireland as a missionary. He is credited with converting the Irish to Christianity and thus became the foremost patron saint of Ireland.
St Patrick's Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century, and has become a more general celebration of the heritage and culture of the Irish. 17th March usually falls during Lent, but Christian restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol during Lent were historically lifted for the festival. This encouraged the tradition of heavy alcohol consumption which continues today.
One traditional St Patrick's Day custom was known as "drowning the shamrock". At the end of the night, a shamrock is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer, or cider before drinking a toast to St Patrick or Ireland. The shamrock is either swallowed or taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck.
St Paddy's Day in America
St Patrick's Day was transformed by the large-scale Irish migration to the US, beginning in the 18th century. Irish immigrants and their descendants, wanting to maintain ties to the old country, have created ever bigger Paddy's Day celebrations. These include public parades and festivals, céilís, and wearing green clothes or shamrocks. In New York City, the St. Patrick’s Day parade has taken place over 250 times since 1762.
A notable American St Patrick's Day tradition is the use of copious amounts of green dye. An estimated 40 lbs of dye is used to turn the Chicago River green for the day. Many American bars sell customers green lager.
The drink with the strongest Irish association is probably stout. With milk or sweet stout becoming the dominant stout in the UK in the early 20th century, it was mainly in Ireland that the non-sweet or standard stout was being made. As it had a drier taste than the English and American sweet stouts, it came to be called dry stout or Irish stout. It is distinguished by its creamy texture and long-lasting head, created by using a nitrogen propellant rather than carbon dioxide.
The best selling stouts worldwide are Irish stouts made by Guinness at St. James's Gate Brewery in Dublin. The brewery was established in 1759. Guinness is drunk in 150 countries on St Patrick's Day.
Another popular style of stout is Russian Imperial stout. This has a high alcohol content, usually over 9% ABV. Samuel Smith's brewed a version for export to the United States in the early 1980s, and today imperial stout is among the most popular beer styles with U.S. craft brewers.