BeerScribe Rewind: Some Final Thoughts About What You’re Drinking On St. Patrick’s Day…

In a follow-up to my recent article on American breweries exploiting the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, I wanted to lay out some brief thoughts on popular beverages traditionally enjoyed on this day. When you think of the usual beverage alcohol suspects consumed on the 17th in March, the list usually includes, for beer, Guinness, Harp, Murphy’s, Smithwick’s, and sometimes even Beamish and Kilkenny. And when we think of Irish whiskey, it’s usually Jameson and Bushmills. For liqueur, it’s Bailey’s.

Most drinkers don’t truly comprehend the global nature of the beverage alcohol marketplace and the assault on local heritage that has occurred over the last 20 years. In an age of consolidation, Irish beer and whiskey no longer really exist. Let’s look at Guinness, by far the most popular Irish beverage alcohol consumed on St. Patrick’s Day. With its storied history, Guinness is a global brand whose heart is clearly in Dublin, right? Well, in 1997, a merger between Guinness and beverage alcohol empire Grand Metropolitan, which owned the Smirnoff and Baileys brands along with the Burger King chain, created global powerhouse Diageo.
Based in London, Diageo is now the largest multinational wine, spirits, and beer company in the world and Guinness is only one of dozens upon dozens of brands. (For lovers of Scotch whisky, Diageo also owns and operates the distilleries of Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Cardhu, Knockando, Glen Elgin, Clynelish, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Glen Ord, Lagavulin, Oban, Royal Lochnagar, Talisker, Mannochmore, Mortlach and Glenlossie).

This past year has seen a great deal of controversy for Guinness as Diageo has been considering selling the historic St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. The heart of Guinness’s operations since 1759, when founder Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease at £45 per year, the value of the land on which the brewery sits is now estimated at nearly £800 million.

Perhaps in recognition of the lack of local connection to the famed brand, Guinness has also seen tremendous reductions in consumption among the Irish themselves. Sales of Guinness in Ireland have dropped by more than 25-percent in the last eight years. In 2007, sales dropped nearly 10-percent. As one writer in The Irish Independent so colorfully put it,

For generation eff-you, Guinness is just a smelly old man drink, although the company is ramping up its marketing activities and ploughing millions into the relaunch of its home drinking products.

So if Guinness is no longer really an Irish brand, what about the other famed Irish drinks? Well, again we have to look to Diageo, which also owns Harp, Kilkenny’s, Smithwick’s, and Bailey’s. For those seeking an alternative from Diageo, you’ll be happy to learn that Murphy’s Irish Stout is owned by Heineken International. And what of Beamish, which is occasionally seen in the United States? The brewery was purchased by the Canadian brewing firm Carling-O’Keefe in 1962, then incorporated as part of a takeover in 1987 by Elders IXL, sold to Scottish and Newcastle in 1995, before passing to Heineken Ireland after the takeover of Scottish and Newcastle in 2008.

Well certainly, Irish whiskey remains Irish, right? Wrong. The most popular brand of “Irish whiskey” in the world, Jameson, was bought by French alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard in 1988. The same with Black Bush, Tullamore Dew, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, and Midleton VR. And what of Bushmills? Once owned by Pernod Ricard, the brand was traded to a familiar name in 2005. So buy a nip of this Irish whiskey and your money again flows into the pockets of Diageo.

According to’s Beerfly, Ireland has only 12 breweries today (compared to more than 1400 in the United States). When you remove the above-mentioned brands, you’re left with 8 breweries. Of those, only the Carlow Brewing Company distributes beer in the United States. So much like with bad weather, if you have to leave the house on St. Patrick’s Day, keep your eyes out for O’Haras Celtic Stout, Curim Gold Celtic Wheat Beer, and Molings Traditional Red Ale if you can find them. Or perhaps an Irish-style ale produced by your local brewery or brewpub. And without question, feel free to smack your friend if he orders you any green beer.

–Article previously appeared on in March 2008.

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BeerScribe Rewind: Everyone Is (Unfortunately) Irish On St. Patrick’s Day…

So that time of year is upon us once again, the time when imbibing throngs pack into bars, throw on giant, foam hats, and clink mugs of green beer in celebration of, well, something. Perhaps a greater perversion than even the American fascination with and celebration of Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity for wild, unabashed revelry among the masses and for big breweries to haul in the cash.

Miller and St. Pat’sI live in Boston and St. Patrick’s Day is a thing of legend here. As a well-known Irish enclave, Boston plays hosts to more than its fair share of prefabricated, soulless, faux-Irish pubs. These places, with such thoughtful, traditional Gaelic names as The Purple Shamrock, are difficult to appreciate even on a slow weekday. Come the 17th of March, and the bars transform into some of the least hospitable places on the beer drinking planet.

Now I don’t begrudge anyone a day or two a year to let loose but this particular holiday, along with Cinco de Mayo, has always felt pretty forced to me, especially in Boston. Quick, tell me three things you know about the man known as Naomh Pádraig. Admit it, the only thing you could come up with was the snake thing. And when you think of Cinco de Mayo, you think of the day that Mexicans won their freedom. You and millions upon millions of others would be wrong on both counts. But why let a little history, or legend, get in the way of a few pints, right?


St. Patrick’s Day comes early to Boston, with the big brewers’ paper shamrock laden paraphernalia being taped to the walls of bars weeks in advance. And herein lies my real problem with the holiday (and Cinco de Mayo as well), namely its exploitation by big American breweries. Despite its ownership by London-based global behemoth Diageo (which is rumored to be closing Guinness’s historic and famous St. James Gate brewery in Dublin), I’ll give a pass to Guinness, which sells an estimated 13 million pints of the now-rubyish beer every March 17. But because American breweries, with no ties to Ireland or Irish history (the diluted histories of the big guys are all German), see a chance to sell a lot of beer, we get paper shamrocks haphazardly stuck to bar room walls.

So what to do on St. Patrick’s Day? Given the dearth of quality Irish beers (O’Hara’s Stout being a rare example), a few years back I recommended an exploration of Scottish-style ales out of spite. Seeing as Patrick was himself born in Roman Britain, and not Ireland, that recommendation seems sound today. So as I think about how a historic metaphor involving snakes and religion can spawn so wildly out of control, I’ll be drinking beer made by some Scottish descendants at the Dunedin Brewery in Florida.

–Article previously appeared on in March 2008.

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Beer’s Least Favorite Holiday or The Annual St. Patrick’s Day Abomination…

T-minus one week and counting until Boston fills to the brim with light green beer drinking hoards getting their Irish on for a day. Officially my least favorite holiday of the year (right ahead of Cinco de Mayo), I usually head out of town for St. Patrick’s Day. This year, however, the forces have aligned to keep me in Mass and I’ll probably end up joining the annual BeerAdvocate crawl for a pint or two (thankfully, this crawl draws a no-man’s-land line at the Charles River). My deepest sympathies go out to those poor, hapless workers who are stuck in downtown Boston next Tuesday. In celebration of the day, I’m bumping a few older articles (including the one with the great photo of the lady drinking in a floppy, foam green Miller Lite hat) on the topic up in a piece we’ll call The BeerScribe Rewind…Slainte.

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Heed The Call Of Beer Evangelism…

The future of better beer is in your hands, now what are you going to do with it? That is the question I’m asking our loyal readers to ponder in the first few months of the New Year. The continued success of craft brewers and the industry that supports them will not depend in the long-term on a small but passionate group of beer geeks buying greater amounts of quality ales and lagers. Instead, craft beer’s prospects rest with the uninitiated masses who have yet to embrace the products we love.

As a niche within a niche, BeerAdvocates spend a lot of time talking amongst themselves. We attend festivals, visit select bars, and chat online with one another about which breweries are exciting or disappointing us. All the while, we tend to ignore people who have not yet sought membership in the good beer club. We have each experienced a beer awakening at some point, a moment of clarity where the beer and moment met and a spark quickly developed into a forest blaze. So why not take some time to give the gift of good beer this year to someone who really needs it? For you aspiring beer evangelists, here are some tips to assist in your endeavors at spreading the fire to new communities.

Beer Tip Number 1: Bring a friend to a beer festival. With their unparalleled offerings, there is no better place to introduce beer neophytes to the wide world of craft beer than at a festival. While basking in the glow of craft beer camaraderie, beer newbies can sample a wide array of brands with no added financial or judgment pressure. If they don’t like a beer, tell them to toss it and try something new. Try and help your friends break down their beer prejudices by trying a range of beers, from light to dark and hoppy to malty.

Beer Tip Number 2: Follow up your festival visit by buying a mixed six-pack of beers your friend enjoyed in order to reinforce the experience.

Beer Tip Number 3: If a festival is out of your budgets or too big a first step, why not invite your friend out to a local brewpub. More than any other source, brewpubs are the frontlines of the American craft brewing movement. For the price, there is no better way to expose your friends to a bevy of beer styles in a safe, friendly environment. If a little weary of new places or trying new beers, order a safe beer for your friend and a sampler for yourself and share. The brewpub sampler, which can range from three beers to a dozen or more, is the surest conversion tool you have for getting others started on the craft beer experience.

Beer Tip Number 4: Invite your friend, or better yet, your friends out for a brewery tour. A few years ago, the Brewers Association observed that the majority of Americans live within ten miles of a brewery. It’s time to capitalize on your good fortune. Check for a list of your local breweries and then contact them for tour times or to schedule a visit. Most breweries welcome visitors and do a fantastic job of educating and courting new customers. Sometimes just meeting a brewer is enough to break down beer prejudices and it’s a great way to support your local brewery.

Beer Tip Number 5: Once you’ve planted the better beer seed, nurture your creation with the gift of knowledge. The better informed prospective consumers are about their options, the more confident they will feel in their purchases. Buy your friend a book on local beers or gift them a subscription to BeerAdvocate or another beer magazine for their birthday. Reinforcing their better beer experiences with information will hopefully seal the deal on their beer conversion.

In undertaking your missionary duties as foot soldiers in the better beer brigade, remember the keys to beer evangelism: Don’t judge or push and always have fun. Happy converting.

–Article appeared in Volume III, Issue II of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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Back From Denmark, Enveloped In Snow…

Well it looks like we just managed to skirt in under the wire with the onslaught of snow that started just minutes after our return from Denmark. While in the snow globe, I need to complete a few articles over the next few days but hope to set aside some time to write about the beer scene in Copenhagen and in Denmark generally. After a week there, I feel like I have returned home with more questions than I originally had and with few answers. It was fitting that during my trip, I didn’t come across a single person who could not speak pitch perfect English, but that upon my return home, the guy taking my Indian food order and I had trouble communicating. Probably apropos of nothing, but it adds just another layer to the unusual Danish travel experience.

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