We owe a lot to the inventors of the Black and Tan. Not only did they come up with the peanut-butter-and-jelly/chocolate-peanut butter perfect flavor combination of the beer world. They also had a wee bit of marketing instinct. After all, the recipe for this “beer cocktail” is a straw-pale lager or golden ale topped with an equal portion of dark brown stout or porter in a pint glass. Thankfully, its originators went for the snappy moniker “black and tan” rather than the more accurate but demure “gold and brown,” or, often used in the past, “light and dark.”
As much as flavor, the allure of a Black and Tan is the floating layers. — Photo courtesy of John FerriFortuitous, but this delicious beverage no doubt would have survived regardless of marketing. An unusual mingling of flavors, the combination of caramel, chocolate and coffee hints from the stout or porter blends perfectly with the counter-tang of hops in the ale or lager. Not a tough sell no matter what you call it, and today the popularity of the Black and Tan is unquestionable.
Speaking of marketing, Guinness Stout is the primary vehicle for this malty marvel, simply because the Irish beer is so synonymous with the darkest of beer styles. Traditionally, either reddish-gold Bass pale ale from England or bright Irish Harp lager has been paired with the inky stout, which is carefully and slowly poured over the back of a spoon onto the head of the lighter beer. Science then comes into play: since the beers have different liquid densities, the dark beer floats atop the light, creating a beautiful layered effect in the glass.
With so many small breweries making so many styles of beer, the pouring combinations these days range far beyond Guinness and Bass. Bars and pubs in most beer-savvy cities have a locally brewed option on tap, whether a full-on stout or its slightly lighter cousin, porter. It goes without saying there is no shortage of local lagers and ales with which to mix.
Next time you’re thirsty for this classic beer drink, why not stray from tradition and try blending a couple of craft brews instead of the typical imports? Maybe layer a Black Hook Porter from Red Hook Brewing over a Manny’s Pale Ale from Georgetown Brewing, both found in Seattle.