Enjoying beer the Irish way

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day is upon us again. This is undoubtedly the only day of the year specifically celebrated by drinking beer, and as a result tends to be one of the holidays I am most fond of.

Ah, St. Patrick’s Day is upon us again: the festival where everything is green, everyone is Irish, and everyone drinks beer. Some say the wearing of green supposedly comes from the clover that St. Patrick used to explain the holy trinity (read another theory here), but where does the beer tradition come from? This is undoubtedly the only day of the year specifically celebrated by drinking beer, and as a result tends to be one of the holidays I am most fond of.

Interestingly enough, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the days when our drinking habits become decidedly more European than usual. I don’t mean to disparage our current trends, but traditionally an Irish, English, or German drinker wouldn’t be caught dead ordering an Orange Crush or a round of Woo-Woo’s. Even so, their drinking practices aren’t less extreme, just more about enjoying quality beverages.  Did you know a 17-oz. Weiss beer and a bowl of wurst is a traditional German breakfast? When was the last time you started that early? This is because in most European traditions, beer is recognized as a source of good calories (think liquid bread,) and beer has always been crafted, meant to be enjoyed and savored like a fine French wine.

Beer now takes on a different role in our culture, and unfortunately it’s still mostly due to Prohibition. During Prohibition, many of our traditional Irish and English pubs and breweries were forced to close, simply not able to make ends meet. What’s more is once the 21st Amendment was passed, there were still limits on brewing, most notably that brewers were to keep their beer at Depression prices, which meant they were going to use the cheapest methods possible. Unfortunately, after 14 years of Prohibition there was now a generation well into drinking-age who had never developed the taste for beer and knew no difference between real beer and the light cheap stuff that was now being mass-produced and sold. And that has more or less been the trend in our brewing, and drinking, history.

In light of all of this travesty, would it be so bad to drink differently this St. Patty’s?  I don’t mean to suggest you drink “European,” but drink the way things would have been on our soil if the Volstead Act had never come into play.  So here are a few suggestions of ways you can enjoy beer this St. Patrick’s Day in a way you might not have before.

1. Enjoy beer with breakfast.

Guinness goes surprisingly well with a lot of food — I like it with cinnamon rolls. Smithwick’s Ale, also available all over the place, is quite good with biscuits and jelly.  Think of the flavor of the beer before pairing, and remember: even if you have to work, one Irish beer in the morning isn’t going to give you a buzz, it’s going to give you calories.  Just… just don’t hit the Jameson for dessert.

2. Enjoy beer with lunch.

Don’t pack a lunch, head out to a neighborhood restaurant (read: bar that has both decent beer and food). Guinness or a similar dry Irish stout (like Murphy’s or Ohara’s) will go great with a Reuben or sailor sandwich, and now you’ve got enough fuel in your tank to last you the rest of the workday.

3. Enjoy beer with dinner.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I really enjoy eating corned beef and cabbage; I think it’s a delicious, traditional meal, and honestly I really just dig the simplicity of it. If you don’t want to cook, head down to Capital Ale House, Penny Lane, Rosie O’Conolly’s, or the like, and peep what beers they have on tap. Fortunately, even after a few Irish or English ales, you’re going to be standing tall and standing straight, as these beers are meant to be enjoyed one after another (did you know Guinness has less alcohol by volume than Budweiser?)

4. Enjoy your rights.

Throughout the rest of the evening, be sure to thank your lucky stars that the Volstead Act wasn’t a worldwide law—what would we do without delicious beer with real flavor?  And As you sip down your last of the night, say a little thank you to ol’ St. Patrick, for giving you a reason to drink in the first place.

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Christopher Elford

Christopher Elford is a Canadian-born waiter, writer, and comedian who enjoys playing a game called “Drink When You’re Unhappy.” He lives in Richmond, Virginia with his two cats and would love to do stand-up at your next garden or office party.

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