In March, 1776, the Continental Army, led by George Washington, forced the British to withdraw from Boston and retreat to Nova Scotia. The real hero of this story, in my opinion, is 25 year old Henry Knox, a bookseller and military enthusiast, born and raised on Federal Street, who was sent to Fort Ticonderoga to retrieve the British artillery left behind after the Green Mountain Boys sacked the garrison there. After 300 mile, 56 day journey in the ice and snow of a New England winter, through swamps and rivers and forests, with 60 tons of cannons and mortar strapped to an 80 ox sled, the cannons were placed strategically at Dorchester Heights and successfully threatened the British fleet in the harbor, forcing its retreat. It was Washington’s first victory in the Revolution, and a huge victory for the 13 colonies because Boston, the city where it all began, was now the first to be liberated.
The British fleet didn’t leave immediately. They were forced to wait in Boston Harbor for almost a week, until the 17th of March, before the winds were favorable enough to sail. In that time, the fortifications held and the British supply ships were diverted by American navy boats. Is it coincidence then, that St. Patrick, the missionary who Christianized Ireland and also the Patron Saint of Engineers, died of March 17, 461 A.D., some 1300 years earlier?
I hereby propose a toast- to Henry Knox, for his guts, glory and determination, and to St. Patrick, for the winds that freed Boston.
These days, St. Patrick’s Day is mostly a secular exploration of Irish culture and a day of mindless, unfortunate, pointless consumption of way too much Guinness and the for the wearing of green. The beer that I like, and that I sell, is not designed for this. Beer, to me, is a story in a bottle. It develops over time, it encourages you to think and it teaches you something about yourself and your palette. As a beer buyer at our little fancy food store, St. Patrick’s Day is not all that different from any other day, honestly. There isn’t a lot of great beer coming out of Ireland not called Guinness or Murphy’s, although the craft brewing revolution, although small and new, is at least alive and well. In the meantime, these are my St. Patrick’s Day recommendations.
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 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.
Grand Cru (Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, CO) Great Divide is one my of 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 but 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) St. Patrick’s Day also marks an unofficial end to winter and a cure for cabin fever, if we’re lucky. 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.