Regardless of who invented it, the first people to make green beer probably made it the same, slightly unintuitive way it’s made today: a mixture of beer and blue food coloring (the blue mixes with the natural yellow of the beer to make green).
— Phil Edwards, writing at Vox
If a warning flag didn’t pop up in your brain after reading the preceding words, then you’re probably not a member of the target audience for my thoughts today, and you might be more comfortable here.
This said, my own warning flag flies in the form of a question: Is yellow really the natural color of beer, or just the most customary shade experienced during modern industrial brewing times?
And: What type of food coloring is needed to turn Guinness green? Or for that matter, Smithwick’s?
Then: Why would anyone do this sort of thing to beer, anyway, even a wretched and indefensible light lager like Michelob Ultra, much less an artisanal product?
Yes, I know; it’s all in good fun, because we love the Irish one day each year. Except that I happen to view it a bit differently, and will now explain to you why. It’s what I do, explain. You’re free to disagree; that’s what dialogue is all about, even if it’s gone a bit out of fashion.
This year on St. Patrick’s Day, I conjured a tweet.
“IMHO, if you’re a local ‘craft’ brewery, and you color your beer green for St. Paddy’s, it is a regrettable thing, and I can’t take you seriously as a ‘craft’ brewery the other 364 days of the year.”
I advanced this crazed point of view after a search for “green beer” revealed a St. Paddy’s tout by a “craft” brewery in Texas. In all honesty, I had absolutely no idea the practice had become so common among small American “craft” brewers that it prompted this devastating (and unrelated) comment:
Craft Brewers 10 Years Ago: “Don’t drink that crappy, fizzy green macro lager today. Try a craft IPA or Red ale!”
Craft Brewers Today: “We put green food coloring in all our beers for St Pat’s. Don’t forget to try our crappy fizzy lager!” pic.twitter.com/5fgHwiBgai
— The Olympic Tavern (@OlympicTavern) March 17, 2023
It also never occurred to me, not even once, that Louisville-area brewers were complicit. I was quickly reminded by a friend about Atrium Brewing’s O’Beer, a “sour…filled with passion fruit, blue raspberry, lemon, and vanilla,” which seems fair, and has the great merit of achieving its green hue through the creative use of ingredients rather than the aforementioned blue food coloring.
(Had I known green beer had been embraced by local “craft” brewers, I might have thought better of stirring the pot and challenging sensitivity levels, although it’s doubtful, seeing as the somnolent among us need principled provocation on occasion.)
Subsequently I was depicted in less than glowing terms as a sad fuddy-duddy shaking his atrophied fist at the cosmos, vicious and intemperate, and unable to comprehend simple fun.
But it should be obvious that I don’t regard it as fun.
In my world, it contradicts the principles that have impelled so many people to risk everything in order to return brewing to its local origins, because it’s a hell of a lot less expensive to apply the food coloring to the swill inside a keg of Silver Bullet than invest in a brewing system, the only reason for which is to brew both differently and better than the low common denominator achieved by mass-market brands.
It’s a personal, deeply felt reaction, and don’t hold your breath waiting for me to apologize for it.
Granted, I never found a cure for cancer or achieved a peace treaty through shuttle diplomacy. However, I’ve devoted the lion’s share of a lifetime, and whatever heart and soul I possess, into convincing people that beer has dignity and integrity, and can be so much more than a low-common-denominator alcohol delivery device.
40 years ago, metro Louisville was clueless about beer. Trust me; I was there. In truth, at the start I didn’t know very much, myself. As I learned more about beer’s place in history, agriculture, culture, geography, botany, literature and culinary pursuits, I passed it along to others.
Part of the reason was it being my business to do so, although with me, the impetus has a much deeper source than the strictly mercantile. I didn’t always agree with the Alstrom brothers, but they were right on target with their tag at Beer Advocate, “Respect Beer.”
If you don’t respect what you purport to love, what’s the point?
By extension, it’s an unpleasant feeling (that’s putting it mildly) to see beer demeaned and bastardized.
Consequently, there’s nothing “fun” to me about green “craft” beer, no more so than if I informed a dog lover that I get my jollies kicking canines in the ribs—and no, I don’t abuse pets, although judging from certain cries of anguish emanating from my tweet on St. Patrick’s Day, it might seem as if I’d descended to bayoneting baby seals.
Let’s return full circle to the recipe for green beer. Before “craft” was a glimmer in the Brewing Association’s marketing team’s collective eyes, blue food coloring was being added to fizzy yellow beer, the same fizzy yellow beer that represented the insipid status quo, prompting a beer revolution leading eventually to what is now referred to as “craft” beer.
If “craft” beer was intended to be better, different and a higher plane of existence than fizzy yellow mass-market beer—and if it wasn’t, why make the investment to brew it?—then by extensopn, why embrace the very same symbol of what we’ve been fighting against all these decades?
At the end of the day (especially St. Paddy’s Day), I’m a realist. This isn’t the Gettysburg Address, and my words at this portal will convince no one. Still, I got into beer many years ago as something approximating an evangelist (not an easy admission for an atheist), determined to spread the word and educate about the subject of my passion.
This I have done, and during all this time, I’ve always identified green beer as among the most self-defeating ways to mock an innocent beer (or, for that matter, the Irish themselves), even one as awful as Miller Lite, and certainly not your craft-brewed house blonde ale.
Get a grip, people. If you can’t respect your own beer, the hordes who are drinking hard root beer and seltzer sure as hell won’t, and while I regret it if this point of view is offensive to you, it’s certainly not as obnoxious as adulterating what should be the cure of obliviousness, not its ally.
I have 363 days before any of this matter again, seeing as these things don’t happen any other time…do they?
Photo credit: Berliner Weisse with a shot of woodruff syrup, courtesy of Sunny Side Circus.
[…] Specifically, 2023 will always be remembered (at least inside my noggin) as the year of the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre. Rather than recap in this space the green beer wars sadly occurring on that day, go here: Green with entropy? […]