In South Wales there’s a local delicacy called ‘half and half’. When you order curry at a take-away or restaurant and ask for half-and-half with it then it’ll come with half a portion of rice and half a portion of chips. In beer terms, half and half also refers to mixing a stout and a pale ale together in the same glass. A related concept is Black and Tan, which is the method of serving stout layered over a pale ale.
Anecdotes on the internet suggest you could be taking your life into your hands if you ask for a Black and Tan in Ireland, the term also referring to the British paramilitary force which was deployed there in the 1920s. Whether this is the case and the Irish still despise the term after almost a century I’m unsure; it’s not something I’ve asked of an Irish person, but the Americans seem convinced that’s the case.
Most of the readily available information on Black and Tan is from the American beer scene. They have whole websites dedicated to the concept of pouring the black stuff over bitter; indeed, what is telling is that Guinness manufacture special spoons to help make a Black and Tan and these can only be bought in the United States.
However, it was last year in South Wales where I first encountered the term. The Rhymney Brewery make a Black and Tan beer (it comes out of the cask ready-mixed, so technically a half-and-half, but if you ask for a half-and-half in a Welsh pub you’ll receive a pint glass full of chips and rice). I asked a smattering of the older drinkers in Cardiff and none of them were familiar with the term, so it could be a Valleys thing; Rhymney Brewery originates from the Welsh Valleys.
The practice appears to be something of a Paddy’s Day gimmick in the United States. If it was ever popular in Britain, and it may still be in some regions, I would guess it came about from a scarcity of choice in particular pubs, so the locals would make a new beer available by mixing stout and bitter (or mild and bitter, and whatever else was on tap).
I still have plenty of unanswered questions about the Black and Tan notion. Is it popular in the United States? Was it a fad from a specific year, say 2012, that has now been forgotten? Is it a St. Paddy’s Day tradition? Does it exist anywhere in Britain still? Answers on a beer mat please.
Black and Tan: First attempt
Brains Dark and Oakham Citra formed the Black and Tan elements respectively for my first attempt; there was no real science behind the choices, they were the best of a limited choice in Waitrose. From the picture you can see it didn’t go well, not at all well in fact. After the glass was half filled with Oakham Citra, I carefully poured the Dark over the back of a spoon (not a specially designed Black and Tan spoon, but a regular soup spoon) it plunged straight to the bottom and quickly mixed things up with the Citra.
What I had was a half and half and it didn’t taste great. Not undrinkable, but the sum of the parts did not become better than the individual components. Brains Dark is a lovely mild; clean, sweet and fruity, whereas Oakham Citra is gorgeously sharp and refreshing. Neither became better for being mixed with the other.
Black and Tan: Second attempt
You can’t condemn a whole practice based on one failed go so, a week or so later, with steadier hands I tried again. My second attempt included the world famous Original Guinness and since it was St Piran’s Day (the patron saint of Cornwall) I reached for one of the plentiful bottles of Doom Bar to act as the base. I also used a different spoon and a smaller glass in the hope either or both would help me achieve that perfect layering of rich, velvety Guinness floating over the nut brown base of Doom base.
And guess what? After all that careful preparation and consideration, time and patience, it all came together and produced a bloody mess. The Guinness plunged straight to the bottom of the glass. If I had poured it in any more slowly I’d have been squirting the damn stuff in with a pipette. In the end I had a bad mix of Doom Bar and Guinness. Black and Tans, Half-and-halfs, whatever you want to call them can sod off.
In today’s age of vast and varied choice there’s no need to mix beers together. It reminds me of something Gavin Frost said, rather someone he quoted, a gin distiller, (which was loosely along the lines of) “I didn’t fucking spend all that time balancing the botanicals to achieve the perfect flavour in that gin so you could fuck it up by throwing half a lemon in there.”