Why You Shouldn’t Order a “Black and Tan” This St. Patrick’s Day

The name carries certain offensive historical connotations. Allow this shirtless man on Instagram to explain.

Irish Layered Black and Tan Beer with Lager and Stout in a glass on a bar
Don't call it a "Black and Tan."
iStock / Getty Images

If you haven’t heard, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, which means that if you haven’t started drinking yet, you’re already behind. But before you get a jump on that St. Paddy’s Day blackout, allow me to pass down a small but important piece of wisdom: don’t order a “Black and Tan.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t order (or pour yourself) a Guinness and Bass (or the pale ale of your choice, though Bass is considered traditional). The beverage is a St. Patrick’s Day tradition, one which you should, by all means, honor if you’re so inclined. You just probably shouldn’t call it a “Black and Tan,” especially if you’re ordering one in Ireland.

But why not? After all, the name is an accurate description of the drink, which is in fact black and tan thanks to the layering effect of dark Guinness poured on top of a lighter-hued ale.

As it turns out, the seemingly innocuous name actually carries offensive historical connotations linked to the Irish War of Independence in the early 20th century. But don’t take it from me; take it from a sexy shirtless man on Instagram.

In a special St. Patrick’s Day installment of his “Shirtless History” series on Instagram, New York City-based burlesque performer Rex Halligan does a deep dive on the classic drink and the history behind its controversial name. After explaining the centuries-old origins of mixed beers — which he attributes to an old British system in which higher alcohol beers were taxed at a higher rate, prompting pub owners to stretch their profit margins by cutting high-alcohol, high-tax beers with cheaper ones — Halligan dives into the “bad history” behind the Black and Tan, explaining why calling it a “Half-and-Half” is probably a better idea. According to Halligan, “Black and Tans” was a nickname given to former British soldiers recruited into a British parliamentary force after WWI, who wore a “distinctive mash-up of khaki and dark green uniforms.” The division was formed to quash the Irish independence movement in the early 1920s, and did so using brutal reprisal attacks, guerrilla warfare and civilian slaughter.

(Halligan notes that there is a minor error in the Shirtless History video, in which he refers to the Royal Irish Constabulary reserve as the Auxiliary, which actually came later. To any “Well actually” guys out there, he offers the disclaimer, “You shouldn’t get your facts from a shirtless guy on Instagram.”)

If you don’t want to get your facts from a shirtless guy on Instagram (or from me, a woman who usually writes about sex on the internet), the controversial connotations of the Black and Tan have been covered elsewhere, including by Emily Bell at VinePair. But whether you take this particular history lesson from me, Bell or a shirtless guy on Instagram, the main takeaway is the same: if you’re planning on drinking a certain half-Guinness, half-Bass concoction this St. Patrick’s Day (or ever), just call it a Half-and-Half.


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