PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If you love beer, you should hate St. Patrick's Day.
You're going to wade through a crowd just to get to the bar at your favorite pub that's usually dead on a Monday. You're going to be served Guinness in plastic cups that even Guinness' parent company Diageo (DEO) strongly advocates against. If you're lucky, you won't be served a premium by the owners for the privilege.
Maybe you'll be able to get to your local liquor store, bodega or supermarket and leave with a beer unmolested, but just maybe you're going to find endcaps filled with Guinness, green cans of macrobrew or anything remotely Irish that can be fashioned into Black Velvets, Black and Tans (which, by the way, is a terrible name for anything) and other Frankenstein beer blends.
If your idea of marking the occasion involves installing a nitrogen tap for Guinness in your Kegerator and dyeing light lager green, it may be worth reassessing your relationship with St. Patrick's Day and co-opted U.S. drinking holidays in general.
In the beer world, St. Patrick's Day comes at the end a long, dry winter and the beginning of an uncertain spring. Cold-weather beers disappear all too soon, while sunny spring varieties show up way too early. As a result, beer sales slump to their lowest points of the year.
Take a look at the Brewers Almanac put together by Washington-based lobbying group The Beer Institute. You'll see an American beer consumption pattern that shallows out around Labor Day and doesn't really pick up again until folks start buying their Memorial Day 30-packs in May. Seems like the beer industry could use a little boost somewhere in the middle, doesn't it?
That's where St. Patrick's Day comes in. In 2010, for example, Americans hit their peak beer consumption in June, when they took down more than 20.1 million barrels of beer. Their thirst for beer kept them buying roughly 19.5 million barrels a month until the end of summer, but trickled off every month thereafter until they were down to 15 million barrels each month in January and February of 2011. By March and St. Patrick's Day, however, that amount shot up to 19.1 million again before settling back to 17 million in April just before the summer resurgence.
The last decade is marked with similar March upticks, with the greatest prompting hibernating revelers in 2006 to up their beer intake from 15.4 million barrels that February to 19.2 million the next month. That's worth something, no? It's better than just a continued drop, right?
Kind of. Despite that big St. Patrick's Day bump in 2011, Beer Marketers Insights found that beer shipments actually fell 1.4% that year. Diageo, which produces Guinness and should have received the brunt of those St. Patrick's Day benefits, saw its U.S. shipments plummet 2.3% that year. Last March, beer production was off 5% from 2012. Despite a surge in consumption, Diageo-Guinness sales in the U.S. still fell an estimated 7% for the first six months of 2013.
Brewers and bar owners will still make the push around this time of year, especially when Guinness sells more than 3 million pints in the U.S. on St. Patrick's Day after a spate of slow months, but their St. Patrick's Day surge is giving potential customers one of the worst beer experiences of their lives. The crowds are elbow-to-elbow, the cups are often plastic, the beer is a foamy one-shot poor and the poor bartenders assigned to work that shift are living their worst nightmare. Bartenders often recall their St. Patrick's Days on the job as an old hippie or Occupy Wall Street member might describe an encounter with police.
Any beer drinker who honestly loves beer should realize that they don't need a mandated holiday to drink one. A great stout is just as available, if not more so, in the days before and after St. Patrick's Day as it is on the day itself. No brewer should tell you otherwise.
Unless that brewer just so happens to be Diageo-Guinness, which relies on establishing a direct line between Irish heritage and its own product to boost sales. While it has plenty of help in promoting beer around St. Patrick's Day here in the states -- where MillerCoors' Colorado-produced Killian's Red suddenly starts touting its Irish roots and every brewer with a mash tun produces an Irish-style brew for the holiday -- Diageo-Guinness gets particularly brazen about its marketing in Ireland itself. Since it decided St. Patrick's Day wasn't enough, it started Arthur's Day in 2009.
Each September, Diageo-Guinness implores people throughout Ireland to celebrate Guinness' 1759 anniversary year by being in a bar at 5:59 p.m. (or 17:59) to raise a glass to Arthur Guinness, the brewery's founder. The event takes place exactly six months from St. Patrick's Day and has been widely criticized as an alcoholiday concocted by Guinness to sell more beer. There were reports of a 30% increase in ambulance calls in central Dublin after last years event, while 2,000 hospital beds were tied up with people admitted with alcohol-related illness. Dr. Stephen Cusack, a physician in Cork, told the Irish Times that the streets of the Dublin resembled the "last days of Sodom and Gomorrah."
While the Guinness brewery storehouse in Dublin is still the No. 1 tourist spot in all of Ireland, Guinness itself isn't faring nearly as well. While Guinness was unquestionably Ireland's beer of choice in the early 1970s, when stouts made up 70% of the beers consumed by Irish drinkers, a 2006 report from Ireland's Competition Authority noted that European and American lagers had become "more fashionable" and taken 63% of Ireland's beer market compared with just 32% for stout. Guinness' Irish market share has slipped from nearly 31.1% in 2006 to just 26.9% by 2011, according to Euromonitor International. By comparison, Heineken, Budweiser and Carlsberg now account for roughly 34% of all beer consumed in Ireland.
For beer lovers, that makes St. Patrick's Day and Arthur's Day more about propping up Guinness than about celebrating beer. Don't fall into that black hole of stout and standing-room-only pubs: Do St. Patrick a favor and save Monday's pint for another day.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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