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What is a Black and Tan?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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A black and tan is a drink made by filling a glass partway with a pale ale, and topping off with a dark beer such as a stout or a porter. Because of the varying densities of the two beers, a black and tan will remain neatly layered, creating a rather striking visual appearance. Many brew pubs offer black and tans, as do bars and restaurants which serve beer, and this beverage can also be prepared at home.

Although many people associate the black and tan with Ireland, thanks to a promotional campaign by the Guinness Brewery, black and tans actually originated in England, and they appear to date to the 1800s, although the combination may be older. At any rate, people first started referring to this style of beverage as a “black and tan” in the late 1800s, and the terminology quickly caught on.

Assembling a black and tan can be a bit tricky, depending on how attached one is to the layered look. If layers are important, the denser beer in the top layer is usually poured over the back of a spoon, so that it flows gently into the glass without disturbing the contents. Some people use a spoon with a specially bent handle which loops over the rim of the glass for this purpose.

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In other instances, people actually want to blend the ale and the dark beer, in which case the dark beer may be poured in first, with the ale being poured on top. As the ale settles to the bottom, it promotes even mixing of the two beers, especially if the black and tan is drunk in a timely fashion. When a black and tan is made with a pale lager, instead of an ale, it is more properly known as a half and half, although people are not always consistent about following this rule.

A black and tan is best served in a clear glass, to allow people to see the layering of the drink, and sometimes the two beers are brought out separately, allowing the consumer to mix them.

The popularity of the black and tan has led to the widespread adoption of a large related family drinks, like black and golds or black and whites, along with an assortment of drinks named for specific beer combinations. Many people enjoy developing their own version of the black and tan, using locally available beers for a specific desired flavor.

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