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The Black and Tan Cocktail Requires a Delicate Touch

Sometimes, one’s choice of drink can be controversial. Such is the case with the Black and Tan, a beer cocktail whose name is simultaneously practical and problematic. Here’s the lowdown on the drink’s history and how to make one. 

What Is a Black and Tan? 

The drink is made by layering a stout or porter atop a pale ale. Because the tan-colored light beer is denser, the near-black stout floats on it, creating an ombre effect in your pint glass.  

This easy-drinking combination has a millennia of history. According to Difford’s, in England, people have served different styles of beers in the same glass since the 17th century.  

However, for historians and many in the Irish diaspora, the phrase “black and tan” has connotations beyond colors.

The Controversy Behind the Black and Tan’s Name 

In the 1920s, amid the Irish War for Independence, Great Britain deployed various groups to Ireland to suppress the liberation movement. One company, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), was nicknamed the black and tans due to their mismatched uniforms. 

“The British didn’t want to declare an outright war in Ireland, so, instead of sending in the military as such, they boosted up the existing police force,” says Peter Hession, Ph.D., assistant professor of Irish history at New York University. The RIC wore the near-black tunics typical of a police force alongside the khaki trousers of soldiers.  

These outfits spoke to their hybrid roles. “These were former military people, many had fought in the first World War,” explains Hession. “They were recruited as members of the police force, but what they’re actually doing is fighting the guerilla independent fighters. They have a reputation for being very vicious, very brutal.” 

Given these associations, use discretion when and if you refer to this drink as a Black and Tan. An alternate name, the Half and Half, is an equally descriptive moniker that’s less likely to alienate anyone within earshot. 

The Black and Tan Cocktail Recipe, a.k.a. the Half and Half 

Built directly in the pint glass, this cocktail requires a delicate touch to keep the beers separate. 

Ingredients

8 ounces pale ale
8 ounces stout or porter

Directions

Pour the pale ale or lager into a pint glass. Slowly pour the stout or porter into the glass over an upside-down spoon, taking care to layer the beers without blurring their colors. 

FAQs 

What Are the Best Light Beers for a Black and Tan? 

Typically, the light beer in question is Bass Pale Ale, a malty, caramel-colored beer available worldwide. Other options include Smithwick’s Blonde and O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale, or a lager like Harp

What Are the Best Dark Beers for a Black and Tan? 

Guinness is the traditional choice for a Black and Tan, but other dark beers can certainly get the job done. Beers like Murphy’s Irish Stout or Porterhouse Brewing Co.’s Irish Stout would work, or you can swap in Maine Beer Company’s Mean Old Tom Stout

How to Pour a Black and Tan 

To achieve the layered effect of different colors in your glass, pour the light beer in first. Then, position a spoon upside down over the rim, and slowly pour the dark beer over so it floats atop the pale ale or lager

What Does “Black and Tan” Mean in Ireland?  

Black and tan is another name for the Royal Irish Constabulary, a paramilitary force deployed by the British during the Irish War for Independence.  

What Are Some Variations of the Black and Tan? 

The Black Velvet combines equal-parts Guinness and Champagne and is constructed similarly to the Black and Tan. First, you add four ounces of chilled Guinness to a flute, and then you slowly pour in the Champagne over the back of a spoon.  

Other variations include the Blacksmith (Guinness atop Smithwick’s Red Ale) and the Black and Gold (Guinness plus cider). 

How Do You Drink a Black and Tan? 

Don’t mix the beers. Instead just drink the Black and Tan like you would any other pint.