St. Patrick’s Day, Lá Fhéile Pádraig, is celebrated as a family and beer holiday in Ireland and mostly as a beer holiday in the United States. And celebrating the day usually means going to your favorite pub or brewery, having a few pints, and visiting friends—old and new.
But celebrations in 2021 will continue to look as different as they did in 2020, just around the time that COVID-19 restrictions passed down from the government kiboshed public gatherings in the name of public safety. Folks instead donned their shamrock and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” sweatshirts and opted to raise a glass at home.
This year, North Shore breweries are doing what they can, given the circumstances, to recognize Patrick’s Day. Adrienne Ritchie, digital marketing manager for Newburyport’s RiverWalk Brewing Company, says although they are not hosting a formal St. Patrick’s Day celebration, it doesn’t mean the team won’t mark the Emerald Isle holiday. RiverWalk has a trio of different beers planned—a saison, a Pilsner, and a double IPA inspired by Southern Hemisphere hops—and food specials to go with them in keeping with Massachusetts’ requirement that brewery patrons must purchase food with their initial alcohol order.
What’s on the menu? “Likely something along the lines of corned beef,” Ritchie notes, because what’s a St. Patrick’s themed menu without a St. Patrick’s staple? The bucolic funk of a saison, the crispness of a Pils, and the exotic, fruity, and even savory notes of a Southern Hemisphere IPA each complement a nice slice of corned beef in their own way, even if at a glance these aren’t the styles one might expect to find on tap for the holiday.
In Beverly, two breweries—Backbeat Brewing Company and Gentile Brewing Company—are going with the classics. “We’re canning a fresh round of beers on March 10,” reports Paul Gentile, owner and head brewer of Gentile Brewing. “One of those beers will be our Irish red that we make every year, and we have a stout that we make year round, a four-and-a-half-percent stout, that we’re canning.”
Lots of Gentile’s customers like combining the two to make a nice Black and Tan, he says. That drink is usually made by mixing pale ale and stout, but if you’re having a Black and Tan on St. Patrick’s Day, you’re using Irish red as the base. Rounding out their tap list: Gentile’s English bitter, a staple pub beer, which will be released at the same time as the Irish red. “So just these nice classic styles to mark what is, for all intents and purposes, a drinking holiday,” Gentile adds.
Pete Harkins, owner of Backbeat Brewing, is taking the same tack: He’s sticking with tradition. “For beers, my dry Irish stout on nitro is on all the time. I don’t ever run without it,” says Harkins. Then I have an Irish red that’s also going on nitro and I have an Irish pub ale. They’re all going to be nitro beers.” That’s a trio of fresh, sessionable, and most of all creamy beers served up in pints or half pints, keeping with the spirit of good Irish beer. The addition of nitro gives Backbeat’s slate a separate identity from Gentile’s, which means more options for thirsty customers whether they’re picking up cans or drinking while socially distanced.
RiverWalk and Gentile typically do observe St. Patrick’s Day. Gentile Brewing in particular embraces the day with gusto: “Traditionally we have a blowout,” says Paul Gentile. “We put out some cask beer, we get someone in to make corned beef sandwiches—it’s a whole thing.” This year, instead they have chosen to focus most of their energy on the five-year anniversary, which falls close to St. Patrick’s Day.
Someday Harkins might tell a similar story, since Backbeat also has an anniversary date within throwing distance of St. Patrick’s; the difference is that Backbeat had its grand opening in 2020, and they didn’t even have the chance to say “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” before businesses had to shutter at the pandemic’s start.
Harkins’ solution? “We’re going to celebrate for two of them,” he laughs. Harkins wants to see circumstances improve enough that restrictions can be lifted by March, but he’s a realist and isn’t hyping up his expectations. “All I can hope for is to be full,” says Harkins.” It’s going to be on a Wednesday and I’m hoping that we can make it special enough that people come out.” Backbeat’s kitchen will be serving a few St. Patrick’s Day essentials, like bangers and mash and shepherds pie, which alongside the beers (plus a safe eating and drinking environment) should be enough to entice anyone for whom indoor dining fits their comfort level.
If it isn’t, then maybe North Shore breweries should take a cue from Gentile: “If we told our customers that we were going to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on September 17, they wouldn’t blink an eye,” he says. He may be partly joking, but he’s also partly serious, and so is Harkins: He thought about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in November, but nixed the idea because he would’ve had to sandwich it in between Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Asked if he’d consider a September 2021 St. Patrick’s Day, Harkins, without missing a beat, declares, “absolutely.”
There’s nothing saying people can’t put on shamrocks and honor Ireland’s patron saint in the fall, and though it wouldn’t be the same, nothing else is, either, so why not? And in the meantime, these breweries still have the beer you need to make St. Patrick’s Day memorable—even if you only end up celebrating it at home.