These days, St. Patrick’s Day is mostly a secular celebration of Irish culture and a day of mindless consumption of way too much Guinness or green beer. As a Boston native, and history buff, March 17 is as much about Evacuation Day as it is about the shamrock-toting saint (read more about Evacuation Day). As the beer buyer at our fancy little food store, I prefer to celebrate both events with a couple of bottles of exemplary craft brew.
Although the craft brewing revolution in Ireland is alive and well, there’s none to be had on this side of the pond and until I find a source, I’m recommending a few domestic ales for your celebrations.
Cadillac Mountain Stout (Bar Harbor Brewing Company, Bar Harbor, ME) – An excellent (and local) replacement for Guinness. It is a dry stout, rich and dark, creamy and luxurious like a caramel latte on the front and more French Roast on the finish. Truly a meal in a bottle, complete with a cup of coffee for dessert, but weighing in at 6.7% abv, it’s much stronger than a Guinness, so I caution you to drink it in a more contemplative state, nursing it and your thoughts.
Red Giant (Element Brewing Company, Miller’s Falls, MA) – The Irish are also known for their Red Ales, a full bodied, potent and somewhat sweet and buttery brew. The style is all but extinct, and there isn’t a current example that stands up to the Reds of old. The Red Giant, while not specifically an Irish Red Ale, is to me, a hopeful attempt at what the style once was. It is an extraordinarily balanced beer: bitter but buttery, malty sweet but leathery too.
Grand Cru (Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, CO) – Great Divide is one of my top 3 favorite breweries because, when you take all away all of the categories and stipulations and definitions of a beer, you should be left with a glass of something completely delicious. Great Divide has never failed this test and I am consistently blown away by their brews. The Grand Cru is a big, big beer. Chewy and sticky in the best possible way with an awesome just-past-ripe banana note from the top secret House yeast. Technically a Belgian Dark Ale (but again with the definitions!).
WipeOut IPA (Port Brewing Company, San Marcos, CA) – If we’re lucky, St. Patrick’s Day also marks an unofficial end to winter and a cure for cabin fever. The snow is gone, we’re out parading in the streets, the baseball season is just weeks away, it isn’t dark at 6 pm, the crocuses are out and the air smells like mud and earth. In my opinion, a pint glass full of a West Coast IPA is the perfect beverage for this time of year. Massive hoppiness requires massive maltiness, so you get two sensations in one, bitter and sweet, which makes sense, because you’ll be drinking this classic summer beer in 50 degree mid-March sweatshirt weather. Bittersweet. Indeed.
In March, 1776, the Continental Army, led by George Washington, forced the British navy to surrender Boston and retreat all the way to Nova Scotia. This was Washington’s first victory of the Revolution and was a huge morale booster for the 13 colonies: Boston, the city where it all began, was the first to be liberated. Today, that first victory is still celebrated in Massachusetts under the name of “Evacuation Day.”
In my opinion, the real hero of Evacuation Day is Henry Knox, a bookseller and military enthusiast, born and raised on Federal Street. He was the seventh of ten children, born to Irish immigrants, William Knox and Mary Campbell Knox.
In May, 1775, American revolutionaries, including the Green Mountain Boys, captured Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. When the British relinquished the fort, they left behind a sizable amount of heavy artillery.
With the British in control of Boston, young Henry Knox recalled this stockpile of weaponry and proposed to General Washington that he retrieve it. Knox set out for Fort Ticonderoga on a mission that took him on a 56-day journey, over 300 miles in the ice and snow of a New England winter, through swamps and rivers and forests, returning with 60 tons of cannons and mortar strapped to a sled drawn by 80 ox. After Knox arrived in Boston, the cannons were placed strategically at Dorchester Heights. The British realized their fleet had all of a sudden become easy targets for shelling. This proved a tipping point and the British fleet began their retreat.
The only problem was Mother Nature would not cooperate and the Brits were forced to wait in Boston Harbor for almost a week, when favorable winds finally allowed them to sail. In that time, the American fortifications held and British supply ships were diverted by rebel boats. The date that the British actually sailed? March 17.
Among the many hats he wears, Eric Meyer is the Beer Buyer, Grill Master and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.