Beer Basics | The Black & Tan

The words “black” and “tan,” when paired together, once referred to a noble breed of hound; then, during the Irish War of Independence, to a brutal band of counter-revolutionaries. Now, it describes a drink. A mixed drink, to be exact — a blend of light and dark beers, usually a stout perched atop a pale ale. The name probably came from 18th century British pub-slang, but black and tans have since blown up in the United States. Some breweries even produce bottled versions, though none succeeds on the level of some other same-bottle food mixtures, such as those Smucker’s dealies with peanut butter and jelly crammed into a single jar (which, by the way, may have sounded the death knell for humanity’s work ethic).

Black and tans should ideally be mixed by you, a knowledgeable friend, or a licensed, bonded, and insured beer-mixing professional. I’ll explain how to do it on your own. You’ll need the following ingredients:

1 dark beer (the black)
1 pale beer (the tan)
1 spoon (pouring aid)
1 pint glass (pour containment/shoe protection)

But which beers to pick? I’m going to mix things up by using two craft beers instead of the staples, Guinness and Bass. Today’s picks: Anchor Steam and Anchor Porter.

Read each of the following steps before attempting to pour a black and tan.

1. Uncap and pour the pale beer. Tilt the glass and straighten it slowly as you pour. (Some people think a little foam helps with separation, but I’ve tried it both ways and haven’t noticed any difference.) Stop when the glass is a bit more than half full.

2. Balance the spoon on the edge of the glass with the spoony part (concave side) down, so it hovers above the beer. Note: To help balance the spoon, you can bend its neck into an S shape — or you can buy a pre-bent black and tan spoon online. They’re bent by a professional!

3. Gently pour the dark beer over the top of the spoon so that it acts almost like an umbrella, an umbrella in a world where … it … rains … beer? bbbbblllAAAAARRRRHHH

Sorry, blacked out for a second. Where was I? Ah yes, fill the glass the rest of the way using this method. Separation should occur. Maybe. Or not.

4. Imbibe.

Well, I botched my first pour. And the second. How’s yours? If you did well, you’re making me look bad. Perhaps these two ales love each other and refuse to be separated. Or it could be a byproduct of their similar densities. Or maybe I suck at this. Either way, I have a reputation to uphold! Criminy.

Grumbling aside, the separation of black from tan is mostly for show. Taste is what matters, and when it came to taste, these beers finally did me a solid: The porter’s roasted coffee and chocolate notes remained dominant, but the steam beer subdued them slightly, smoothing them out with its mild fruitiness and bracing hops. Not bad.

So, once you get past my experiment’s utter failure, it actually turned out rather well. But I’ll probably do a bit more research before choosing two beers for my next B&T experiment.

8 Responses to “Beer Basics | The Black & Tan”
  1. Kris says:

    Glad you didn’t pour your black and tan at my house – although I would have been more than happy to help empty the glass

    • Scott says:

      I’m sure 😀 The spill was a result of my frustration … I’m ashamed of myself for wasting beer like that! But it made for a good picture, so it wasn’t a total waste.

  2. Ben says:

    OK, forgive an absolute beer rookie (albeit a rookie who adores stout), and tell me the difference between a stout and a porter?

    • Scott says:

      No prob, Ben; I love explaining beer stuff (obviously)! And this is a great question.

      First of all, there’s some overlap between stouts and porters. If I remember correctly, the term stout is actually a shortening of “stout porter,” which pub-goers in London would ask for when they wanted an especially dark and roasty porter. So technically, stouts are a kind of porter! Nowadays, the most common difference drawn between the two is the amount of roasted malt used in brewing (stouts typically have more). But given the number of different substyles belonging to each, there will always be some gray area. In terms of flavor, they often share many of the same characteristics, such as roasted coffee and dark chocolate flavors, but even that differs greatly from substyle to substyle. A baltic porter, for instance, will be much more rich and potent than a dry stout.

      Thanks again for the great question!

  3. ironandfire says:

    Great blog! I love the idea of a world where it rains beer, awesome! I always had trouble pouring a black and tan the way you describe. Then I saw a device made by Bass ale, which was basically a spoon that hangs on your glass just right. It wasn’t an umbrella at all, it was concave side up, so I tried holding a spoon that way, and it’s never failed me. I also love the idea of using Anchor for the mix, brilliant!.


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