Judging by the people cheering at parades and stumbling around city streets, you might think that St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest beer-drinking day of the year. In truth, it’s nowhere close.
While bars would have you believe it’s your duty to hoist one, St Patrick’s Day is only the 10th most popular beer “holiday,” according to Nielsen, having been bested by, among others, Easter (really!), Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the king of beer-drinking days—the Fourth of July.
That didn’t stop Americans from spending just shy of $1.2 billion on St. Patrick’s Day beer last year, though. And the most popular choice, according to Untappd, the Facebook of the beer-drinking world, had nothing to do with that swill mixed with green food coloring many bars peddle.
And the most popular beers are…
Guinness Draught has topped the list for the past two years—and Untappd expects it to do so again in 2016. Smithwick’s Irish Ale is the perennial bridesmaid.
Harp Lager, another Guinness-owned Irish brand, took third place in 2014, but Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter stole that spot last year, with Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout Nitro coming in fourth. (Harp fell to fifth.)
This year, the app is expecting Guinness and Smithwick’s to once again take the top spots, followed by Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale, Milk Stout Nitro, and Harp.
Where people do the most drinking
Untappd’s data goes far beyond which beer we’re collectively drinking, though. Because the app is so widely used, it helps pinpoint the hot-spots of St. Paddy’s revelers.
Chicago led the check-ins last year, with New York City coming in second. And while you might expect Boston (or maybe Savannah, Georgia.) to rank third, it didn’t make list at all. Philadelphia, San Diego, and Portland rounded out the Top 5.
When people start drinking
One thing’s certain: Americans do use St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to start drinking early. Check-ins on Untappd at 9:00 a.m. on the holiday last year were more than double the average at that time (with nearly 900 users hoisting one). The numbers grew incrementally throughout the day, with 8:00 p.m. being the peak hour, though it didn’t taper off until after midnight.
And what about other spirits?
Guinness isn’t the only Irish export that sees a spike on St. Patrick’s Day. Simon Fay, international marketing director for Irish Distillers, which distributes Jameson whiskey and other Irish spirits, says the holiday is key period for them as well. In fact, it ranks right up there with the Christmas season.
“People tend to associate Jameson with that moment they get together with friends and family,” he says. “It’s that moment of conviviality where our products have an opportunity. December and March are typically on par with each other as periods of growth.”
Whiskey can be a bit more dangerous for a weeknight, especially if you’re planning a night of heavier-than-usual drinking. Trying to decide on an option? Here are a few suggestions.
Guinness Draught – There’re decent odds you’ve tried this at one point if it’s in your list of considerations. And it’s a solid choice. Smooth and malty, when poured properly, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a stout that has a perfectly balanced blend of flavors, avoiding the coffee and chocolate that so many push. It’s mild and perfect for celebrating the day. (ABV: 4.2%)
Smithwick’s Irish Ale – This can be a divisive beer. Some people love its malt notes and hint of caramel sweetness. Others complain that for an ale, it lacks almost all hop flavors. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the brand and found that it’s a good Irish ale for people who don’t enjoy the bitterness of a more complex American take on the style. (ABV: 4.5%)
Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout Nitro – Nitro was the right way to go with this pitch black stout. It’s a U.S.-made alternative to Guinness, and while some might say it’s a bit thin, it’s a creamy beer that’s heavy on the roasted malt with a slight tinge of coffee flavoring. (ABV: 6%)
O’Hara’s Irish Stout – A less famous Irish import, this is a terrific choice—if you can find it. It’s a very full-bodied, rich beer whose flavor profile leans most heavily on the roasted, smoky flavors of the malt. You’ll pick up the slight hint of espresso, but not enough that it’s distracting. It has a crisp, dry finish that will leave you eager for more. (ABV: 4.3%)