St. Patrick’s Day is nearly here. In the collective imagination of most Americans, this is a day on which many of us reach for our glasses perhaps a bit more eagerly and earlier than usual. With just enough time before we get carried away, however, it might be the opportune moment to review the history of the holiday.
St. Patrick, AD 385-461, is perhaps the best-known of Ireland’s patron saints and his story is really quite interesting, even if you don’t take any particular interest in early Christian history. Patrick was born into a Roman-British family who were part of the Christian church. Sometime around the middle of the 4th century, it was not uncommon for Irish pirates to conduct raids along the west coast of Britain, during which they routinely kidnapped people to sell them into slavery back on the island.
Such was the unfortunate fate of a 16-year old Patrick. After almost six years of captivity, Patrick had a dream in which God called on him to escape and return home, which he amazingly managed to do (according to the official story, he walked through nearly 200 miles of Irish wilderness to the coast, where he was allowed to board a ship).
He would later return to the land of his captors, also at the behest of a dream, ostensibly in order to rid the island of its Celtic paganism. His efforts would eventually lead to the establishment of the church of Ireland. The significance of the green shamrock, for those who were curious, derives from the fact that Patrick is said to have used the three-leaved clover to explain the unity of the holy trinity to the island’s unruly polytheistic clans.
Drinking fits into all of this a bit later: in the 17th century when St. Patrick’s Day was made an official feast day, the good people of the church decided that the Lenten prohibitions on drinking alcohol should be temporarily suspended. Thus, the fact that this holiday is specifically associated with drinking is not only a matter of gratuitousness or opportunism on the part of Americans, especially considering that a good deal of us have at least some amount of Irish ancestry.
History aside, it is clear that many of us will not be limiting ourselves to Irish spirits and beers this Sunday, so it may also be of interest to see who makes some of the booze we are likely to be drinking (keeping in mind that alcohol is generally considered a recession-proof product, if not one that actually benefits from tough economic times). Consider the following stocks:
Beam, Inc. (BEAM) – Beam became a stand-alone, publicly traded spirits company in October of 2011, and its stock has performed very well ever since. On Sunday, you might find yourself holding a glass (or a bottle, depending on how your day goes) of Kilbeggan or Connemara Irish whiskey. But their reach into the spirits market is truly vast, encompassing higher-end brands of whiskey, vodka, gin and tequila such as Curvoisier, Maker’s Mark, Knobb Creek, Laphroaig, Effen, Tres Generaciones, and Cruzan, to lower-end brands like Kamchatka, Sauza, Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad, and Kessler, not to mention their ubiquitous namesake Jim Beam.
Diageo plc (DEO) – For those whose Patty’s Day drinking will be more orthodox, it is highly likely that something made by Diageo will be going down the hatch, what with the all the necessary components for an “Irish car bomb” on its roster: Bush Mills whiskey, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and Guiness beer. Politically insensitive mixed-beverage names aside, you may also recognize Jose Cuervo, Smirnoff, J&B, Johnny Walker, Kettle One, Tanqueray, Captain Morgan, and Crown Royal.
Molson Coors Brewing Company (TAP) – You may come across this beer giant on Sunday in the form of Caffrey’s Irish Ale, or George Killian’s Irish Red, but you may not want to be seen by any Irish folks if you are drinking their Mickey’s brand, no matter how green the bottle. The beer giant also, of course, makes Coors, Molson, Fosters, Miller, Keystone, and a litany of others you’ve likely seen on the shelves.
Anheuser Busch-InBev (BUD) – Everyone knows about Budweiser, but Anheuser Busch is also responsible for brands like Stella, Becks, and even more “exotic” brands like Hoegarden and Leffe. This weekend, however, there is a chance, however slight, that you will be at a party or bar and someone will offer you a Michelob Irish Red Ale.
Boston Beer Co. Inc. (SAM) – The all-American beer brewer whose name harkens back to revolutionary times produces a variety of beers, but their Irish Red is something you might find yourself drinking come Sunday.
Craft Brew Alliance (BREW) – The Craft Brew Alliance is the product of a 2008 merger between Pacific Northwest craft brewers Widmer Brothers and Redhook Ale, with the Kona Brewing Company joining up in 2010. Proof that they have rather quickly turned the country on to craft beer can be found by walking in to any place that sells alcohol, be it a liquor/convenience store or a grocery store. While they do not currently make any Irish beers, they used to make O’Casey’s Irish Stout and Dry Stout.