How to make green beer, leprechaun style

When I embarked on making the perfect green beer for St. Patrick’s Day, I decided no fooling around: I captured a leprechaun and asked it for the recipe. At first, of course, it refused to tell me. It even offered to take me to its pot of gold instead, but I knew that was a trick. Then it started feeding me a spiel about squeezing shamrock juice into the beer, but I didn’t buy that, either.

I resorted to tickle torture, and finally the leprechaun admitted the truth: they use food coloring, just like everyone else. Huge disappointment, I know! And yet how cool is it that you, too, can make festive green beer with nothing more than a trip to the grocery store and a few minutes’ time?

The leprechaun didn’t tell me which color food coloring works best, so I had to test both blue and green. Below are the results. [Updated for 2015, with all new pictures.]

Beer & Food Coloring

To play along at home, all you need is beer, a clear glass or mug, a spoon or stirring device of some sort, and food coloring. Choose a pale beer – I went with Harp, a pale Irish lager. If you’re not of Irish descent, you may use a non-Irish beer if you must, but for goodness’ sake, don’t brag about it around St. Patrick’s Day.

How to make the perfect Green Beer

Step 1: Add the food coloring to the glass

You can pour the beer first and then add the food coloring, but it gets stuck in the foam and you have to stir it in and it never really looks nice. Now, when I was first testing different amounts of different colors, I had to add the food coloring after the initial pour, but I recommend doing it the other way. You’ll have to read the rest of the article and look at the pictures to decide which color food coloring, and how many drops, you want to use. I went with three green drops of food coloring.

How to make the perfect Green Beer

Step 2: Pour the beer

Pour the beer into your glass, over the drop(s) of food coloring, and it will mostly stir up on its own as you pour. If it needs a little more stirring, you can use a bar stir stick, which will agitate the foam so you don’t lose the head. (Stirring with a spoon tends to make the foam disappear, but in a pinch a knife, chopsticks, straw or anything that’s straight should work.)

How to make the perfect Green Beer

How to make the perfect Green Beer

How to make the perfect green beer

The Experiment

And that’s it. And now for the pictures that will show you the different experiments I did to find the color I liked best. I started with two glasses of Harp Lager, which is a light amber color. Results may vary depending on the beer you use, so I included this photo for you to compare with your beer.

How to make the perfect Green Beer

Next comes the food coloring. When I first did this years ago, I found that the decision was between green and blue food coloring. The amber of the beer gives the drink a yellow hue to begin with. Blue + yellow looked exactly like the green, and green + blue was barely distinguishable from blue or green. Your mileage may vary, but for me, the question was, “Green or blue, and how many drops?”

These are the beers with one drop of green (left) and one drop of blue (right). They look a lot alike at this point, and it’s more olive than the emerald green you want for a St. Patrick’s Day beer.

How to make the perfect green beer

Then I added another drop to each one.

How to make the perfect green beer

This is where I would stop if I had gone with the blue. It’s becoming dark and murky looking already. The green still looks good, but has a slight yellow tinge that’s still not quite what I’m after. So I added a third drop to each.

How to make the perfect green beer

At this point, the blue is just too dark in my opinion, but the green has the beautiful, deep emerald shade I was after. Here are pictures of both glasses from different angles, with a totally white background.

How to make the perfect green beer

Green beer made with three drops of blue food coloring and Harp Lager

How to make the perfect green beer

Green beer made with three drops of green food coloring and Harp Lager

And scroll back up to the pictures of the final product to see how much better it looks when you add the food coloring before the beer.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Photography notes: The only thing I did to touch up photos was brighten them all the same amount and crop them. Because they’re taken from different angles, it’s still possible the colors aren’t exact, but I did my best to make them look exactly like they did to my naked eye.

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  1. TC says

    Man that makes me thirsty, lol. I’m surprised there’s such a difference between the blue food coloring and the green, there’s no competition really. That emerald green beer looks amazing!

  2. Matt says

    Ugh. If I’m at a bar on St. Patty’s (which I usually am), I always beg the bartender to leave the green stuff out of my beer. They always go way too heavy on the stuff and you wind up with a nice green oil slick on top of your beer.

    • Jen says

      TC, the color results really surprised me!

      Matt, I hear ya. It really only takes a few drops – 4, 5, maybe 6 at the most. Then it’s perfectly drinkable.

  3. Kenny says

    I have found that if you just put the food coloring in the bottom of the glass before you pour, there is no need to stir.
    Na Zdrowie!

  4. Andy says

    hehe. my bday is patty’s day and ive tended bar for many moons. youre not going to physically hurt yourself by using more than 2 drops of coloring. but youlle see some funny results that night or the morning after if you do…

  5. Jen says

    I didn’t see any “funny” results at all (I assume you mean in the bathroom?), and 2 drops only made the beer a sickly yellowy green.

    Maybe it depends on the food coloring vial you’re using – how big the drops are?

  6. billbo says

    not trying to be a jerk but it’s paddy’s day….. not patty’s….. that just sounds stupid. and trust me i know, i’m irish (as in i was born and live in ireland). and why oh why would you want green beer? the real irish drink in Guinness or whisky and they looks much nicer than green beer

  7. veesings4him says

    Billbo, my irish friend, of course Guiness is the beer of choice, but admit it, you lovely people dye and entire canal of water green!! Green is the color of choice, and that’s the effect Americans are shooting for. It is nothing more than an act of intense devotion to the holiday!! I too am irish, and reside in the states. In the end, the desired result is fun to be had by all and the streets to be covered in St. Paddy’s lovely green hue!! Happy Day to you all!! :o)

  8. Hambone says

    excellent article…just the info about which food color to use i was looking for….and humorous! thanks bro, gonna go make some now….

  9. nChuck says

    alternatively… put a half ounce of blue curacao liqueur into your glass then pour 12 ounces of beer into the glass and you’ll have a green beer. The liqueur will give the beer a bit of an orange flavor but it tastes pretty good, kinda like a lager and lime.

  10. DeadlyDad says

    FWIW, if you dye it with methylene blue + liquid B complex, it comes out just as bright a green as it goes in, so you can continue to be festive at the urinal!

  11. Alex says

    Well I once drank a green beer that was obtained mixing regular pale ale with blue curaçao! (Nothing irish about that, in fact it wasn’t even supposed to be… it was just a “specialty” that a pub in Italy, where I live, offered from time to time).
    Needless to say, not only the curaçao altered the beer’s taste a bit (making it somewhat sweeter) but it also got me pretty hammered, since it’s much heavier that beer, in alcohol content!
    Better use the food coloring, indeed!

  12. Brian of Nazareth says

    I dunno, for many years I’ve been using just a SINGLE drop of blue food coloring in the bottom of the glass before I pour in a pale colored beer. It always turns out looking like the nice emerald green that you got with the green coloring. Go figure!

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