To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day traditions the city turns the Chicago River green and many pubs turn their beer green but did you know that in both cases to create the color of Ireland (from where it got its name “The Emerald Isle.”) the dye isn’t green?

Chicago River Green

Turning the river a vibrant green to celebrate St. Patrick’s day has been unique to Chicago for the past 40 years. When you see the color it turns you might be surprised to learn that the dye used to create this Irish-worthy color isn’t green.

It turns out that the dyestuff used to produce this bright green (originally used to detect leaks that might be polluting the river) starts out the color orange and then as it mixes with the river water it turns green. A gentleman named Mike Bailey discovered this fact in 1961 and got the idea to use it on a big scale by turning the Chicago River Green.  A tradition was born!

This modern day miracle has woven a great story since its inception complete with Irish exaggeration and Windy City politics. You can read all about it on I was surprised to learn that this is privately funded project and I hope it continues for at least another 40 years. Maybe next March I’ll show my support by taking a colorful trip to Chicago. Care to join me for a few pints of green beer along the green river?​

No St. Patrick’s day would be complete without green beer but if you think that the color comes from green food coloring think again. Sure you can use green if you want a limey brew but if you want a rich, emerald green use blue instead.

How To Make And Enjoy Green Beer 

  1. Put in one or two drops of blue food coloring into a chilled beer glass You may want to experiment with the amount of food coloring a bit to get just the perfect color but I recommend doing this ahead of time rather than the day of.
  2. Pour in a cold, light lager, ale or any beer that would be described as yellow and watch the green magically appear.
  3. Raise your glass, toast the Irish in all of us and drink up.
  4. Call a cab for anyone that starts talking to leprechauns.

And if you want to know even more about the colors of St. Patrick’s Day see: Saint Patrick Blue: Why Celebrate With Green 

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Feature Image Credit: Bigstock

Read Time: 2 min
  • Christopher says:

    Thanks for that info Kate. And how funny that it starts Orange to Green. The 3rd color of the Irish flag.

  • Great idea to make one’s day-look how drab everything else- the buildings, trees etc. looks in comparison. The river appears to be an ‘emerald’ in the rough so to speak.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Yes, especially on this gray rainy day the green glows against everything else in the city surrounding it.

  • I’ve always thought the green Chicago River was the zenith of St. P kitch — green beer, green bagels, faces and hair painted green…

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