How to Make a Half-and-Half for St. Patrick’s Day
With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, you may notice Irish-American pubs and bars slinging half-and-halfs to celebrate. You may know the drink as a black and tan, but for reasons we'll get into later, we're no longer using that name. This layered beer cocktail typically stars crisp pale ale and creamy stout. The drink—which only takes seconds to make, BTW—boasts a delicious balance of malt and hops, thanks to the combo of light, slightly bitter pale ale or lager and full-bodied, rich, smooth stout. Most importantly, its layered appearance looks super impressive, despite being a breeze to pull off. Read on to find out how to make a half-and-half for one *without* the help of a bartender.
What Is a Half-and-Half?
This bev likely hails from England, where they’ve blended different types of beer since the 1600s. Blending brews was a method for saving on beer taxes. Stronger, boozier beers were taxed higher, so bars would combine them with lower-taxed beers to save money. Originally, it was promoted as a mix of both ale and stout; in the 1980s, it began to be promoted as a layered cocktail.
How does layering work, you ask? It’s all about liquid density. Stouts have lower relative density than pale ales, so they remain buoyant when they’re poured on top over the back of a spoon. (Many Guinness taps at bars and restaurants are even equipped with a bar spoon specifically for layering that has a bent handle for resting on the edge of a pint glass.) If you tried putting the stout on the bottom, the pale ale wouldn’t float on top but instead mix with the stout. While most recipes call for using a pale ale and a stout, you could also use a different type of light beer (like an Irish red ale, pale lager or Pilsner) or another dark stout if that’s what you have on hand. As long as the beer on the bottom has a higher relative density than the stout (usually Guinness), the layering effect should still work.
How to Make a Half-and-Half
Grab a pint glass and a spoon, then get to work. (Oh, and FYI, even though a pint glass is 16 ounces, you’ll want to leave room for the foamy head, so you won’t need a full eight ounces of each beer.)
- 6 ounces pale ale (like Bass Pale Ale)
- 6 ounces stout (like Guinness Draught Stout)
- Tilt the pint glass and fill it about halfway with pale ale. Pouring it a bit quickly will create a light layer of foam, which will help hold up the stout.
- Take the spoon and hold it round side-up over the center of the glass. Put the glass down—there’s no need to tilt it for the second beer. Slowly pour the stout over the back of the spoon until it reaches the top of the glass. The spoon disrupts the straight pour, dispersing the stout gently over the pale ale. This allows the two beers to maintain separate layers instead of mixing.
- Wait for the stout to cascade and the foam to separate, then enjoy.
How to Pour a Half-and-Half
Have no fear, visual learners. This beer cocktail’s layered look is a cinch to pull off, but it’ll be even easier if you see it in action.
Why We Don't Call Them Black and Tans Anymore
Here’s the thing: A black and tan is totally commonplace to order in America, but the term “black and tan” has a dark history in Ireland. It was the name given to the British paramilitary force that aided the Royal Irish Constabulary; the group was formed to suppress Ireland’s quest for freedom during the Irish War of Independence. Members wore khakis and dark shirts, hence the name “black and tans.” The group was known for its violent tactics that included arson, looting, destruction of civilian property and even extrajudicial killings.
While the name for the drink stuck due to its black and tan colors, the Irish refer to it as a half-and-half instead. So, if you order one—especially on that side of the Atlantic—make an effort to use the less offensive term.