The Boozy History of St. Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day celebrates the revered Irish saint, St. Patrick. So why do so many Americans head to the pub (after a rollicking and riotous parade if you’re lucky) instead of going to church? What do snakes (ewwww…), shamrocks, and leprechauns have to do with St. Patrick? And when did green beer become a “thing”? Most importantly, what St. Patrick’s Day drinks should you REALLY be drinking? Read on…

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The history of St. Patrick’s Day starts with St. Patrick

It is generally believed that St. Patrick was born in Britain in the fifth century and originally named Maewyn Succat. At the age of 16, he was forcibly removed from his home by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to labor as a slave for six years. As the story goes, he later escaped or was released by his captors. He went on to become a priest and changed his name to Patricius—or Patrick.

According to legend, he was “called” back to Ireland to convert the Druids to Christianity. He was quite successful in doing so prior to his death, believed to be on March 17, 461 A.D.

Patrick’s legend loomed so large that by the seventh century he was widely revered as the Patron Saint of Ireland. The church established a feast day in St. Patrick’s honor on the anniversary of his death, March 17, 1631.

Who gets credit for the BOOZY history of St. Patrick’s Day?

The Irish weren’t the most popular folks when they immigrated to the United States to escape religious persecution and the potato famine. Between 3.3 to 3.7 million Irish people immigrated to the U.S. from 1851-1920, but the Irish were celebrating St. Patrick in America WAAAAYYYYY before the 19th-20th centuries. In fact, the first parade celebrating the feast of St. Patrick was held in 1601. It was held in what is now known as St. Augustine, Florida under the direction of Irish Vicar Ricardo Artur.

The parades continued from there (and we all know what a good parade leads to, Slainte!).

According to History.com, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the British army marched in St. Patrick’s honor in Boston in 1737. It is believed the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York in 1762.

So where does the boozy side of St. Patrick’s Day come in? We all know our Irish friends love to throw back a pint or three, right? And if you throw in a shot or two of good Irish whiskey, you’ve got a party. But it isn’t only our Irish sisters and brothers we have to thank. It’s the distillers of Irish whiskey—and their marketing teams—that deserve a huge chunk of credit for making St. Patrick’s Day the boozy celebration it is today.

Americans (not just Irish Americans) love a good party (and St. Patrick’s Day drinks)

And marketers knew this just as much 100 years ago as they do today. Irish whiskey distillers were fighting to survive in the early to mid-twentieth century due to unfavorable taxation in the homeland and prohibition in the U.S.

In order to regain market share in the United States and cast a more favorable light on the Irish in general, Irish whiskey distillers embraced St. Patrick’s Day. They promoted the celebration alongside their spirits in every way imaginable. All of the green beer, shillelaghs, shamrocks, and leprechauns that make St. Paddy’s Day marketing so fun and festive today, started way back when. Fortunately, the snakes St. Patrick allegedly chased out of Ireland (most likely a myth) aren’t a big part of the celebration.

Again, Americans love a good party, the cheesier the better. We eat it up, and from there we drink up …

What St. Patrick’s Day drinks should you REALLY drink?

If you ask your friends at The Crafty Cask, the best St. Patrick’s Day drinks start with fine craft spirits. We love the Irish whiskeys that craft Whiskey distiller J.J. Corry is bringing to market, thanks to the genius of Louise McGuane. McGuane has made a name for herself as Ireland’s first modern Whiskey Bonder. The Crafty Cask’s Jena Ellenwood recently traveled to McGuane’s family farm. Read her Western Ireland Travel Guide to get the deets!

And in case you missed it, we’re not just enamored with Irish whiskey… though if you need a solid Irish Coffee Cocktail recipe, you’ll find one here. We’re also excited about other types of Irish craft spirits, like Irish Gin and Irish Poitín—aka, “Mountain Dew.” You can learn more about these Irish craft spirits and the St. Patrick’s Day drinks to create with them here.

And let’s not forget about all of the wonderful Irish style-craft beers we have in the U.S. today. Many Irish beers are of the session style, which means they come with a lower ABV (the 4% to 5% range or less), including the dry stouts, ales, and lagers the Irish perfected over the years. Since quality beer doesn’t travel well across the ocean, we’re fortunate to have many fine craft brewers right here in the U.S., bringing us a wide range of Irish-style craft beers we LOVE.

Learn everything you ever wanted to know about Irish Beer with SipScout!

Our March SipScout monthly craft alcohol box features Irish-style beers, and our beer nerds are dying to tell you all about them! Sign up for your SipScout subscription here, then join us for our virtual tasting party on Thursday, March 16, 2023!

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