One of the iconic beverages for those that either are, or wish they were of Irish descent, the Black and Tan, represents all that is right with beer and wrong with British rule.
The History – In Brief
When the Irish were trying to desperately to rid themselves of English rule, no more dramatic than the Easter Uprising in the early part of last century, the English weren’t having it. Fresh of their “victory” in WWI, they were determined to keep Ireland part of their “United” Kingdom. Recruiting Irish loyalists, but, in typical English style, the English under equipped their non-British soldiers by only providing their Irish troops with half a uniform. Long story short, the English provided the bottoms (“tan” khakis) while the native Irish provided their own dark blue (or black) tops. These “black and tans” were the Irish soldiers, used by the English, to quash the rebellion of the Irish Republic. The rest is history. Led by Michael Collins, and other fiercely independent Irish men and women, the native sons of the Emerald Isle came away with their independence and today, the majority of this beautiful island is now considered the Republic of Ireland.
Part of the deal? The English continues to govern Northern Ireland, and today is still part of the United Kingdom. The Irish, with Dublin as its capital and cosmopolitan hub, remains free and independent.
Most likely a marketing ploy by some creative bar tenders, and most likely originating in North America, the Black and Tan as a beer was meant to be both a play on the same words, half Irish and half English, but most importantly, a perfect drink. Guinness, and its unique properties (nitro vs CO2 to be exact) is “lighter” than pale ales and therefore when poured proper, “floats” on top of the pale (read khaki colored) beer.
The Irish-Americans prefer their Black and Tans to be Guinness floated on top of Bass Ale (a delicious beer from England) therefore visually mimicking the Black and Tan soldiers.
Don’t say that to the Irish though. They (we) prefer Guinness floated on top of Harp, another Irish ale, called a Half and Half because why would we want to serve English beer in our pubs and give them ANY CREDIT?? (Useless fact: second and third most popular beer served in Irish pubs? Budweiser and Bud Light).
Truth be told, they are both fabulous. The cool thing about Guinness is it floats over almost anything, save say American light beer. My personal favorite? A Black and Brown, Guinness floated over Smithwick’s (another Irish “nut brown ale” probably designed to compete with its English counterpart, Newcastle).
The moral of the story is simple. Take a true story, couple it with Guinness’ ethereal qualities, show that the Irish are indeed “on top” and market the heck out of it. But lets be serious, a good story only goes so far, no matter what kind of marketing machine is behind it, but the Black and Tan, and the Half and Half, and it’s Black and Brown cousin, may be quite simply one of the great beers EVER.
Black and Tan at Home
Chill favorite pint glass
Fill half way with (traditionally) Bass Ale
Use “special spoon” (see pic) and float Guinness over top. Slow that pour down son and let it ease over the edge to create that Black and Tan look you want and love.
Use Smithwick’s for Black and Brown and Harp for Half and Half instead of the Bass.