Although you may encounter different types of cocktails called Black and Tan, traditionally it is a beer cocktail composed of two beers in the same tall glass. One beer is a light ale or lager and the other is a dark stout or porter. The lighter beer is poured into the bottom of the glass and the dark beer is ‘floated’ on top so that the beers form two distinct layers, hence the name ‘Black and Tan.’
The beers are able to form these distinct layers because beers have different specific gravities or densities. The Black and Tan almost certainly came from England, and the first written mention of the drink comes from the Oxford English Dictionary in 1889.
The dark beer is usually Guinness Stout, which is pretty much synonymous with stout, and I’ve heard that in England Irish Harp Lager is popular for the light beer. Harp was also created by Guinness. That both these beers are Irish is ironic, since and Irish person would probably not recognize a black and tan as a drink. This irony is compounded by the fact that many so-called “Irish Pubs” in the states pour them! In the U.S., Bass Pale Ale is common as the paler beer, but any pale ale might be used. A beer with a more bitter flavor, in my opinion, is a good idea, to offset the malty syrupiness of the Guinness.
Black and Tan Versus Half And Half
Some beer aficionados say that a Black and Tan is a stout and a light ale, whereas a stout and a lager is a ‘Half and Half’. Some even go so far to say that a Black and Tan must use a Guinness nitrogenated stout, as opposed to just any stout with a half and half. Historically, in Ireland, a ‘half and half’ was asked for when a customer wanted a mixture of ale and strong beer. Such stronger brews were originally described as ‘stout’ but they had their own esoteric names.
It is claimed that the name Black and Tan is controversial in Ireland because of the term’s association with the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Forces, which were nicknamed the “Black and Tans.” Indeed, in 2006, when Ben and Jerry’s released their Black and Tan ice cream flavor, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Irish nationalists were offended because of this association. Nike shoes had a similar problem with one of their Irish themed designs, which they called “Black and Tan.” There are probably other versions and explanations. When it comes to cocktails, you will find, almost always, that these ‘scriptures’ are not much more than opinion. The author is unable to verify how popular the Half and Half actually is in Irish pubs.
To make the matter of naming more confusion, there are dozens of alternative names depending on the specific beers used. The term is also used by more than a dozen U.S. breweries who bottle similar blends, such as Yuengling Original Black and Tan, Mississippi Mud Black & Tan, Saranac Black & Tan, Hoppin’ Frog Bodacious Black and Tan, and Michelob Black and Tan.
A Snakebite cocktail is not something you’ll hear of as often as a black and tan or a half and half. It is a half a pint of hard cider topped with a stout beer.
How to Pour a Black and Tan
You will probably hear all sorts of warnings about how “tricky” it is to pour a black and tan, and, although you do have to take your time and be careful, it is not that hard to pour a “perfect” Black and Tan. After all, it’s just half one beer and half another beer. The tricky part is carefully floating the dark beer on top, using the back of a bar spoon or other spoon. You can slightly bend an old spoon to use to pour black and tans for your friends.
The video below shows a Black and Tan being poured in a pint glass. A pint glass holds 16 ounces. A Black and Tan poured in a pint glass should have about 8 ounces of pale beer and 8 ounces of stout. If you use a smaller pilsner of flute glass, the disadvantage is that you have to play with the proportions to get the amounts right. That is, you might have to pour the glass about 2/3’s full or 3/4’s full with the pale beer. However, since the beers are never truly mixed together, it doesn’t matter if the proportions are not exact.
You may also read or hear all sorts of bartender derived beliefs about just the right way to do it. For instance, a common belief is that you should pour the first pale beer fast to build up a big head, and that this will assist in the separation of the beers. This is poppycock and it is the air density of the stout compared to the heavier density of the paler beer that allows them to form two distinct layers. Even if they seem to be mixing together at first, they will still separate into two distinct layers. The trick is to be careful so the beers do not get warm before this separation occurs. You do have to be careful but you do not have to be paranoid. Make sure both beers are nice and cold before you begin. First, have a spoon handy, preferably one made of stainless steel or some other non-reactive material.
Although you can have a black and tan ‘in honor of St. Patrick’s day as in the video, you should probably call it a half and half if you’re actually hanging out with any Irish folks.