If you don’t want to get tossed out of a pub in Ireland then don’t order a Black and Tan. I wish I had read that before our trip there last year. Unfortunately I learned this lesson, as I so often do, the hard way.
What is a Black and Tan? In America it’s a popular drink poured with equal parts dark Guinness and lighter colored Harp beers. Since the two liquids have different weights they don’t blend and form an eye-catching display in the mug.
In Ireland, though, Black & Tan has a different connotation. That was the name given to the British paramilitary troops that were formed around 1920 to put down the Irish after the failed Easter Uprising. These soldiers had fought in the bloodiest trench battles of World War I and were not about to be put off by rebels wielding vintage hunting rifles and pitchforks. The Black and Tan label referred to the colors of their uniform.
Just before we left for Ireland we had watched the film “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.” The movie takes place when the Black and Tans were wreaking havoc on the countryside. They responded to attacks from the newly formed IRA by burning houses, brutalizing the populace and engaging in all sorts of pillaging type activities. As I watched yet another barn burning in the film I said to Larissa, in a rare moment of clarity, “maybe ordering a Black and Tan in an Irish pub isn’t such a good idea,” so I forgot about it.
But in a bit of good luck, on the flight over to Dublin I sat next to a talkative Irishman named Keith. Strike that, “talkative Irishman” is a bit redundant as I learned first-hand, for seven hours, about the legendary Irish gift for gab. Keith has what many would consider to be a dream job. He works for Guinness and is a quality assurance inspector. This means he travels around America inspecting pubs to make sure that Guinness is being poured properly. Yes folks, you can find a job where you get paid to drink beer.
I figured that someone who works for the largest brewery in Ireland could shed some light for me on the “Black and Tan” thing. Keith assured me that it was okay to order the drink in Ireland. He said that it referred more to a time period of Irish history and not the actual soldiers. I was a little skeptical but I was getting the info pretty close to the source, wasn’t I?
So there we were a few days later in a remote town on the Irish west coast. As we walked the streets we even heard locals talking in Gaelic. I had worked up a bit of a thirst searching for rainbows, leprechauns and all things Irish. We stepped into a pub filled with afternoon revelers watching an intense game of pool. With Keith’s words in my ears I confidently ordered a Black & Tan.
Suddenly the pub got deathly still. All heads turned to look at this interloper. The jukebox went mute and even the billiards balls stopped in mid-carom. The bartender gave me what my Uncle Charlie would call the hairy eyeball. “You want what?” he asked.
I stammered out another request for a Black & Tan. At this point, Larissa decided to abandon nearly 25 years of marital togetherness and started edging away from me. I heard a few murmurs in Gaelic. I suddenly wished my parents hadn’t burdened me with such an English sounding last name. I wanted to scream out “I’m 1/8 Irish!”, but fractions were never my strong suit.
Like a slick politician on election eve I even tried pandering. “I really like U2″ I blurted out. One of the pool players, who was wielding an inordinately large cue stick, came right back with “Bono should go save Africa already and leave us the feck alone.” Wow, tough crowd I thought. They don’t even kneel at the altar of St. Bono.
I realized then that the advice Keith had given me on the flight was woefully wrong. (Come to think of it, his directions sucked too.) Ordering a Black & Tan in Ireland is like walking into a bar in Warsaw and ordering an “SS Storm Trooper,” not a good idea. Suitably chastened I slunk towards the beckoning door.
However, I do give myself credit for having the good sense not to get an Irish Car Bomb. This is a concoction made up of Baileys, Kahlua and Jameson Irish Whisky. We saw it ordered in a Dublin pub. The bartender stopped in his tracks and told the offender he was lucky he asked for it in Dublin and not in one of the more contentious sections of Ireland. Needless to say, that drink order was refused.
PS Nike got a lot of heat this week with their introduction of a Black & Tan themed sneaker just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. What do you think of their decision?
Related post: The Dividing Walls of Belfast