Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 7
Mixing beers: What's a Black & Tan?

Oct. 19, 2000

Beer cocktails -- concoctions that mix two different beers or even beer with a variety of spirits -- have recently been touted as a good marketing tool in U.S. bars that otherwise pay little attention to beer as a beverage with taste.

We generally leave it to others to discuss the "joy" of mixing vodka, gin, tequila, cranberry juice and beer (yes, there's a bar that puts all those in the same glass). After all, brewers worked hard to produce a drink that can be appreciated on its own. But the fact is that blending two beers together to produce something different -- and this may take place in the brewery itself or wherever you are enjoying beer -- is hardly new.


The best known mix is a Black and Tan or Half-and-Half, and whether these are the same or different depends on where you order them. Here are the basics:

- You may use any brand stout or lighter colored ale or lager to make a Black and Tan (many brewpubs do this with house beers), but most patrons of Irish theme pubs in the United States think in terms of Guinness Stout and either Bass ale or Harp lager.

- The layering of a Black and Tan -- that is the dark stout floating above the lighter beer -- is said to be common only in American bars. When you begin drinking the beers will mix anyway, so some places choose to let them mix as they are poured.

- It is easier to produce a layered Black and Tan if the stout is dispensed from the special spouts use by Guinness, Murphy's and Beamish as well as those used in some American brewpubs for their own stouts. Also if the stout is pushed with nitrogen (that will be the entire subject of another Beer Break). You begin by filling half the glass with the ale or lager. Next, slow the control on the spout tap and pour the stout slowly over the back of a spoon (Guinness even makes a decorative spoon just for this purpose). The stout will remain on top.

Many drinkers associate mixing beers with Irish and English pubs. The Telephone Bar and Grill in New York City, for instance, always keeps two ciders on tap, and offers a variety of cocktails that mix beer and cider. These include the well-known Snakebite, a mixture of ale or lager and cider. Other places even offer a Black Pecker, blending stout and Woodpecker cider.

We'll discuss more modern day mixes -- such as microbrewed fruit beers blended with imperial stouts -- here soon. Meanwhile, if you have a favorite beer "cocktail," we've love to hear about it. Please send it to

Want more? Read Beer cocktails: Part II

Tasting notes

Brewed in Roselle Park, N.J.

Michael Jackson writes:

A beautifully balanced interpretation of this style, at 6.0 per cent (abv). Pale orange color; smooth body, at the lighter end for the style; firm malt character; deceptively delicate development of flavors; spicy hop finish. All the malts from the German house Durst, including the highly modified Turbopils. All hops Spalt, but in three additions.

Brewed in Portland, Ore.

Todd Ashman writes:

Wow! What a beer. Deep Amber color with a tan head. Aroma is a blend of alcohol and sweet malt. Starts off with a sweet malty note and the alcohol reminds you to sip this beer. For a beer of this strength the body is in the medium range. I imagine an alcohol tolerant yeast is used and a fermentation temperature warm enough to attenuate thoroughly. The bottle states that Aromatic and Honey malts are used, as is Belgian candi sugar. These ingredients are apparent in the flavor. This a wonderful beer and if you can find it treat yourself.