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Begorrah! The history of green beer


Green beer is a staple of St. Patrick's Day celebrations around the world. Who came up with the idea of taking a perfectly good beer and turn it an unnatural shade of green? By many accounts, green beer can be traced back to 1914 New York City.

In the mostly Irish neighborhoods of the Bronx, coroner and toastmaster Dr. Thomas Hayes Curtin, an Irish immigrant, debuted his invention at a social club during a St. Patrick's Day feast. Guests were astonished and delighted at the wondrous quaff before them.

"No, it wasn't a green glass, but real beer in a regular colorless glass," wrote Charles Henry Adams in his syndicated column "New York Day By Day." "But the amber hue was gone from the brew and a deep green was there instead."

Pressed for details of how the green brew was created, Adams reported that Curtin would only say the effect was achieved by adding a single drop of "wash blue"-an iron-based wash additive used to whiten clothes-to a certain volume of beer. He didn't divulge the exact amount of the toxic substance, but it was presumably a large-enough quantity of beer to dilute the poison.

Curtin is often credited with the invention but, four years earlier, in 1910, the Spokane Press made mention of green beer. Under a headline proclaiming, "Green Beer Be Jabbers!" ("be jabbers" is a mild oath of excitement), the paper reported that a local bar had served green beer. No mention how the beer was colored.

"It is a regular beer," the article described, "apparently it has not been colored locally. It tastes like beer and looks like paint, or rather like the deep green waves in mid-ocean with the sun striking them through."

The story went on to say that the bartender was the only person who knew how the beer became green and he wasn't talking.

"All day he has been drawing from one of the regular taps," the article said. "And no one has seen him dump in any arsenic."

A comforting thought, that.

The idea of serving green beer may have come from an old Irish tradition called "drowning the shamrock," or dropping a shamrock in whiskey before drinking it. The custom is meant to bring good luck to the imbiber because of the religious symbolism ascribed to shamrocks.

Legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock as a prop to explain the holy trinity-the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost-to Ireland's King Laoghaire in the early days of the Catholic Church.

The holiday now celebrated as St. Patrick's Day began as a holy feast day to mark the saint's death on March 17, 461. Because the feast falls in the middle of Lent, when Catholics are supposed abstain from meat and alcohol, the church lifted the restrictions for the day, giving rise to over-consumption.

Whether green beer began in New York or Spokane, one thing is certain: There will be plenty of it flowing next week for celebrants of all faiths-or none-of St. Patrick's Day. And relax-in 2017, beer's tinted green with food coloring rather than poison.

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