We spent Saturday at the London Metropolitan Archives where, among Whitbread press cuttings, we found a 1946 article headlined HALF OF GREEN, PLEASE:
Green beer is back. It was a craze in night clubs in the ’30s. I was offered a glass today, and if I had been drinking it in the dark I should not have been able to tell it from ordinary bottle dbeer. But it was bright green. Why?
I asked the Kent firm which brewed it. ‘It is simply a novelty,’ I was told. ‘Makes people talk. They want something different… The green is obtained by adding a harmless, tasteless vegetable blue dye to the beer directly it is brewed. Freshly-brewed pale ale is light yellow. Blue turns it green.’
The author goes on to explore whether other colours are possible, such as red. The answer is, yes, but green is easiest.
A hand-written note in the clippings book says it’s from The Star and appeared on 21 January if you want to look it up yourself. The same story seems to have gone global in the funny filler columnettes so there might be more sources out there, too.
We first had green beer about a decade ago, and there’s usually a little controversy about the practice around St Patrick’s Day, but we were surprised to discover that it had been going on as far back as the 1930s.
There’s also something interesting about that statement ‘They want something different’ which sounds more like a quote from the 1990s, with its seasonal guest ales and spices and fruit, than from austerity Britain.
Which Kent firm was it? We’ve dropped a line to Shepherd Neame as (a) our best guess and (b) the holders of a proper fully curated archive. We’ll update when we hear back.
UPDATE 11:36 15/05/2016
This is turning into a bit of a live blog. Here’s a story on the green beer craze from the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 24 July 1931:
Green beer—the most successful novelty that the brewing business has known in generation —is now being followed by white ale. This is not a new invention as was green beer, but is the famous old milk-like product of South Devon where it used to be regularly served in wayside hostelries… Now, however, it is being re-introduced as a Mayfair novelty, and is served at parties as companion of green beer. Hostesses find that their women guests like beer—so long as it looks like something else.