My friend and colleague, Greg Kitsock, had an article last week in the Washington Post that got me thinking. It was titled Another Layer of Enjoyment and tackled the issue of blending beer, especially with Guinness, as in beer cocktails. It was written to coincide, one presumes, with the then impending St. Patrick’s Day holiday. The two most common of these are a Black & Tan — which Guinness has long promoted as Guinness and Bass Ale (the two shared distribution for many years) — and a Half & Half, which is Guinness and Harp Lager, also a Guinness product. Obviously generic stout and a pale ale or lager may be substituted, but as Guinness has promoted the combinations for such a long time, they are well and truly most closely associated with those brands. I once got into a huge row with the copy editor that Beverages & more used to employ when she changed my text for our March newsletter and switched Black & Tan to Guinness and Harp, and vice versa, without consulting me, so the paper went out to thousands of Club Bev members (the company’s loyalty card) with the wrong information and my name on the item as the author. She was one of those insufferable people who felt they already knew everything and couldn’t conceive of ever being wrong. Surprisingly enough, many continue to spread confusion, with plenty of websites — even bartending websites — with conflicting definitions, including a few that contradict themselves. So perhaps the dilemma is not as well-settled as I believed.
Even Wikipedia, which states that the term Black & Tan, in its meaning as a mixed beer drink, was first recorded in 1899. It’s not listed in my OED, so I can’t confirm that. But after beginning by claiming the two drinks are as I think they should be, they later in the article state that “[t]he two most common types of Black and Tan in the United States use Guinness Draught (not Extra Stout) and either Bass, or Harp Lager,” [my emphasis] which at best is contradictory. When you consider that Harp Lager was first launched in 1960, it’s seems hard to imagine that after 61 years of Black & Tan meaning one thing that it should suddenly make no difference what kind of beer is used, but then I presume the Wikipedia folks who wrote that entry were not on to the finer points of what makes a lager and an ale different. Perhaps they simply assumed a light colored beer is a light colored beer.
I know these drinks are just marketing gimmicks, and possibly not even worthy of discussion, but that ‘s the anal-retentive in me. Is there some confusion about what goes in a martini or a gin and tonic? I just think there should be some consensus, that’s all. Am I asking too much? Anyway, there are actually plenty more of these type of mixed beer drinks, many of which are black and something, like black and red or black and orange. Wikipedia has a huge list and a website, No Sheep, has a few more as well. Personally, my favorite thing to add to Guinness is just a few drops Crème de Cassis, which gives it just a touch of berry sweetness. But I’ve never had a name for it — I suppose I could call it a black & currant or a black & black.