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How not to get tossed out of a pub in Ireland

by Michael on March 8, 2014

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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 we went there. Unfortunately I learned this lesson, as I so often do, the hard way.

don't order a black and tan in ireland

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 color of the uniforms worn by 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 rusty hunting rifles and pitchforks.

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.

The Guinness record goes to . . .

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 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 speaking Gaelic. I had worked up a bit of a thirst searching for rainbows, leprechauns and all things Irish so we entered 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.

cow in ireland

Even this Irish cow grazing nearby couldn’t believe what she just heard.

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 shout  ”I’m 1/8 Irish!”, but fractions were never my strong suit.

Oh Bono, where art thou?

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 someone order it 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.

Related post: The Dividing Walls of Belfast

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Nirmal August 3, 2011 at 12:40 am

Lovely start … i hope to follow your trip

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Michael August 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

Thanks for checking in. More updates to follow.

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Iris August 24, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Oh man. These people should lighten up and consider that you probably just don’t know about the history and you’re a tourist. But the man you sat next to on the plane really does have a neat job! I’m jealous!! Haha.

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Michael August 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Yup, he’s got a great job. But believe it or not the travel wears him down. Thanks for checking in.

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Anonymous April 8, 2012 at 8:18 am

Innocent mistake

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Dave October 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

I’m pretty sure a Black and Tan is a Guinness and Bass. Guniness and Harp is called a Half and Half. I remember this by the letters B and H. B is for Bass (Black and Tan) and H is for Harp (Half and Half).

Anyway, thanks for the warning!

So, does Guinness taste different in Dublin?

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Michael October 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm

You’re right. In Ireland they call it a half and half. Guinness probably tastes different in Ireland due to the atmosphere there. It’s more authentic. Even though Guinness isn’t an Irish company anymore.

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Fiona April 24, 2012 at 11:59 am

Be aware – a half and a half in Scotland is a half pint of beer (often lager) and a wee nip of whisky known as a dram

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Us April 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Ooh, didn’t know that one–thanks for the warning. But at least it doesn’t sound like it would create political tension if you ordered it :)

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Norrie December 18, 2012 at 7:01 am

But you can order a Black and Tan in a Scottish pub and get away with your life, although it’s Guinness and Heavy (Scottish equivalent of an English bitter such as Bass) rather than Harp Lager. In Glasgow, a Sweet Black and Tan is made with Tennents’ Sweetheart Stout (bottle only).

In England, a half and half used to mean a mix of mild and bitter ales, but traditional mild is limited to specialist real ale outlets (and the West Midlands) so this is now quite a rare drink. I still see people drinking light and lager, though, even if I wouldn’t join in.

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Michael December 18, 2012 at 8:28 am

HI Norrie,

Thanks for the tips. We’ll try that next time we’re in Scotland.

den October 6, 2014 at 5:53 am

Yep, not a problem ordering one in Scotland, a lot of Black an Tans came from there!!!

I’ve not heard a light and bitter ordered for a very long time, was quite a popular drink up until the late 90s

Howard Patterson March 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Though I’ve not been there for a few decades, Guinness from the tap in Dublin is unlike any beverage in the world – creamy, thick, and luscious. Even in other parts of Ireland, further than a few miles from the Dublin brewery, it loses a certain depth and thickness. And in England, it’s barely the same beverage. Nothing available in North America comes close.

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Anonymous March 19, 2014 at 2:43 am

That is ridiculous. Clearly not Irish, it takes great all over the island. It doesnt travel well outside is all.

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Anonymous December 10, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Kahlua has absolutely NO place in an Irish car bomb. It’s just Jameson, Baileys, and Guinness.

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Us December 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Either way it’s in bad taste.

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WB March 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Bad taste, maybe, but damn tasty.

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Us March 16, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Yeah, you’re right about that.

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Celeste March 13, 2012 at 8:07 am

I’m loving all your articles but this one about the “Black and Tan” is beyond funny! Thank you for some excellent read!

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Us March 13, 2012 at 8:22 am

Glad we could keep you amused Celeste.

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Ginny Tonic March 13, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Very funny and well-written story! I was looking for a more authentic account of the drink to link to for a story I was doing on why you shouldn’t order a Black and Tan and this was perfect.

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Us March 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Glad we could help Ginny.

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jerry March 13, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Black and Tan is also the name used for a new Nike sneaker arriving just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. “We apologize,” Nike said in a statement to Fox News. “No offense was intended.” Nike acknowledged that the name “can be viewed as inappropriate and insensitive.”

Not all Irish are opposed to a shoe called “Black and Tan,” however. Over at Irish Central one commenter suggested that Nike critics have it all backward:
“I say wear them proudly! The only place a ‘Black and Tan’ belongs is underfoot! Every time you kick a ball or pound them down by dancing them into the ground, hold that vision of divine retribution finally having its day!”

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Us March 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I guess there’s a bright side to everything.

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Nathan March 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm

I wonder why the Guinness WebStore’s site mentions making Black & Tan’s with the Guinness Pouring Spoon?

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Us March 18, 2012 at 4:12 am

Anything for a buck. Of course Guinness isn’t even Irish owned anymore.

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Cindy March 20, 2012 at 4:48 am

I wonder if there is a list of things NOT to order in each country.. That would come in handy for sure.

Enjoyed the post :)

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Us March 20, 2012 at 5:26 am

That’s a great idea.

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tempo dulu June 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Nice info. Great to see that the troubles in Ireland look like a thing of the past too.

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Michael August 14, 2012 at 5:14 pm

One can only hope. Thanks for checking in.

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Ernie August 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm

In Ireland it would be called a “PORTER” ! Slainte !

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Michael August 25, 2012 at 4:49 am

Thanks for the tip. We’ll know that next time. Cheers!

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Mr. Irish September 18, 2012 at 9:21 am

yeah a good thing u didnt say ye were 1/8 Irish to them we Irish hate wen yous say shit like that
Besides what the bartender said was right if ye asked for a black and tan somewhere else ye might b leaving with less teeth

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Michael September 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

Thanks for the advice. Now if you’re really Mr. Irish you can repeat it in Gaelic.

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Mr. Irish September 18, 2012 at 9:25 am

oh and a black and tan is not what you described it as nor does it look like the picture you put up.
a black and tan is a pint of ale where you top off the head with Guinness
and the black and tans themselves didnt fight in the trenches of WWI
they were the auxiliaries that had been kicked from the british army.
if youre going to post about what you know of irish history get your facts right first

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Michael December 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Since neither of us were there at the time I’m basing it on history books and narratives. As I read it, the black and tans were recruited from the ranks of WW I veterans, not from any particular unit. Thanks for your input.

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Mr. Irish September 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

i cannot repeat it in irish. the irish education system requires the teaching of irish however it is not taught as our main language and as such most irish people cannot speak it fluently.

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Fearns October 24, 2012 at 4:34 am

A very good friend of mine visited me in Belfast from the USA and his brother orderd and Irish Car bomb. In that part of Belfast I had to do my best and apologise for him to stop him getting the s*$t kicked through him. He was lucky. It depends on where you go, most city centre bars and pubs in Dublin and Belfast you can get away with ordering drinks like that because they are used to lets say naive tourists asking, outside of the city centers you’re most likely gonna become fubar.

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Michael December 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm

It still seems to be in poor taste for anyone to order a drink with that name anywhere.

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Mac December 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Well at least you learned your lesson then. Won’t be makin that mistake again.

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wandering educators December 18, 2012 at 9:21 am

what great advice!!! oh my gosh. ignorance is bliss…

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Michael December 18, 2012 at 9:47 am

“Ignorance is bliss” is sort of my life’s mantra sometimes but not in this case.

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D.J. - The World of Deej December 18, 2012 at 10:13 am

Holy cow…I order black and tans all the time…I will be sure to remember this when in Ireland!

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Jennifer December 18, 2012 at 10:16 am

I love this! The last time I was in Dublin, I almost got kicked out of a pub for saying “soccer? …Oh, you mean FOOTBALL.” ;)

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Cat of Sunshine and Siestas December 19, 2012 at 2:42 am

I MUST get a job like that! I turned down an entry-level sales job with Gallo wines to come to Spain and don’t regret it (especially because the wine here is so cheap), but when it comes to beer – no hay quien pueda!

And I had a similar experience on a DUB-ORD flight. The guy next to me travels that route a few dozen times a year, so we got pampered, even being in coach! I can usually gauge if I’ll get on well with someone during a flight and either plug in a flim right away or start talking!

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Micki December 19, 2012 at 10:11 am

Very funny stuff. I’ve always been a big Guinness fan, but have never even heard of a black and tan. Maybe it’s just not a thing in Canada?

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Michael December 19, 2012 at 10:16 am

I wonder if there is a Canadian equivalent.

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Maria December 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I made the same mistake once. Didn’t get tossed because my cousins are locals and they smoothed it out w/the owner – silly American cousin, etc… but it was a close one!

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Terry at Overnight New York December 23, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I can’t believe there’s a drink called an Irish Car Bomb! That said, I thought a Black and Tan was an ice cream sundae (coffee ice cream with chocolate syrup), so what do I know?

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Kate March 11, 2013 at 4:59 pm

oops. Awkward experience but really funny story. It does look cool in the glass.

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Alex M March 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm

A friend of a friend ordered an Irish Car Bomb in Belfast and the bartender said ‘okay’ but came back with two shoots of vodka set on fire. The friend of a friend said ‘what’s this?’ and the bartender said ‘The Twin Towers’. Needless to say, don’t order an Irish Car Bomb.

However I made Irish Car Bomb brownies and all my Irish friends loved them.

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Andrea September 26, 2013 at 4:24 am

What a funny post! Can’t stop laughing. Sorry though you had to learn the hard way! But fair play for sharing and “saving” other innocent tourists! ;-)

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john October 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

i am irish work in my dads bar and many people ask for this drink but i think its just the way you asked fot it lad…..

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Michael October 20, 2013 at 1:22 am

Live and learn.

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Lauren MacArthur November 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Sounds like the talkative Irishman Keith was setting you up!

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Michael November 19, 2013 at 9:17 pm

But he seemed so sincere.

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Maggie January 11, 2014 at 1:36 am

If you plan a trip to Ireland go to a small town in county cork……go to O’Brien ‘s pub in liscarroll ……..ask for a tour of the castle it is in county cork………but be ready to spend some time …….the monument in the town is to the last man hung before the peace….Dan o’ brien. Live to day and have fun but remember just enjoy where you are….if you are in a hurry for get it.

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Michael January 11, 2014 at 2:48 am

HI Maggie,

Thank you so much for the tip. It sounds like a fascinating place.

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jay February 2, 2014 at 2:55 am

Big difference between western Ireland (the romanticized countryside of Irish nationalism) and the more Anglicized Dublin. Glad you made it out okay.

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Michael February 2, 2014 at 11:27 am

Oh yes, the people speaking Gaelic highlighted that difference.

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Lisa J February 28, 2014 at 4:37 am

Kind of insulting to call Dublin anglicised don’t you think after all the comments about black and tans. We are as irish as the west. Being colonised by the British for 800 hundred years of course we speak English but it makes us no less irish. You Americans speak English. Are you anglicised?

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Joe February 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm

I am from Kilkenny, Ireland and have never heard of any problem ordering a Black and Tan. It is made with one half Guinness and one half Smithwicks Ale

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Michael February 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Maybe it was my accent.

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tony March 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

My grandfather served throughout ww1 with the Herefordshire Regiment, and if you research where they were deployed, it was not rosy. He survived, and only joined the ‘black & tans’ through neccessity- there was virtually no work at that time. So I resent ‘Mr Irish’ inferring they were all army rejects and never been in trenches. The b+t s may not have been squeaky clean, but neither were the IRA and their supporters were they?

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Noonan April 19, 2014 at 9:55 am

Except for the rather significant differences in that one side was an invading, brutalizing force, and one was a people fighting oppression – not much difference?

I also don’t recall the IRA ever sneaking into a sports arena and opening fire on the crowd.

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chantae March 11, 2014 at 12:41 am

Yikes! A person could go stone sober worrying about messing up a drink order like that!

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Elyse March 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm

I’m so glad I read this post. I probably would have done that exact thing. So embarrassing. Now I know better.

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Roddy March 16, 2014 at 9:19 pm

I think Lauren MacArthur had it right. I had two similar experiences in Dublin many years ago. It was clear that there was contempt for Yankee tourists. Both times I backed away unscathed but educated.

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Matt March 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Having English, Scot, Welsh, and Irish ancestry, I am able to play all positions depending upon situation and can be an equal opportunity offender. Today being March 17th, I was a bit curious as to the acceptability of using the term “Black and Tan” in reference to the drink when in Ireland. Suffice to say, it seemed like a fairly bad idea even before I petitioned the oracle of Google for the answer, which led me here. From now on, when at a bar whether at home in the US or in the UK and Ireland, I shall order said drink as a “half and half” and then add “AKA a black and tan” if the bartender doesn’t get it. Why promulgate an ugly past for both sides?

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Noonan April 19, 2014 at 9:59 am

I might also point out, for those visiting Northern Ireland, that Dublin and Belfast have a few pubs that were/are traditionally partisan, and it might be useful to know which you are in before you open your mouth. While many want to put the Troubles far behind them, areas of Belfast still have issues.

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Andrew May 1, 2014 at 10:12 pm

wherever you go there’s a faux-par waiting to happen! not you, I mean people, outside their own country…. you never know when you’re going to offend someone. But what can you do? If you travel and never open your mouth you’ll never meet anyone and have great experiences. And it’s stories just like these that are, in all honesty, great travel stories. Top blog post!

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Vinny Dee July 15, 2014 at 7:40 pm

I found this out the hard way in Cork. I didn’t order it, but I was telling a guy about. He immediately gave me a strange look and said, “Oh, you don’t say that here. That’s like saying KKK.”. They’ll have to find a different name for it because it’s a good drink.

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Michael July 16, 2014 at 12:58 am

In Ireland they call it a half-and-half. That seems like the safe way to order it.

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J.P. August 17, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I was in Dublin and Ireland for a few days in June. I made sure to educate myself on drinks like Black and Tan and not to offend the natives. I succeeded and what a awesome, fun country Ireland is. Really nice people as well.

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Michael August 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm

We had a great time in Ireland and definitely want to go back.

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TC August 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

For the record, they speak Irish, not Gaelic. Gaelic is the umbrella term for multiple languages. Gaelic is to Irish what Germanic is to English

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Michael August 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Thanks for sharing that.

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Den October 6, 2014 at 5:59 am

Good point TC, but the Irish would say they speak Gaelic.

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Matt August 21, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Don’t order a “special” either, get the same response. A “special” is half Guiness and half Smithwicks. The bartender I asked about it said, “Why ruin good beer! Drink one or the other!”.

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Michael August 25, 2014 at 1:41 pm

That’s an interesting take on the whole black and tan thing.

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Den October 6, 2014 at 5:54 am

Methinks Keith was pulling your leg ;-)

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Niall October 22, 2014 at 11:09 am

I have seen many a black and tan poured in many a pub but then I left Ireland in 1969 just as the troubles were getting going and maybe attitudes changed then. Mind you, I always thought it a terrible waste of good Guinness.

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Michael October 22, 2014 at 11:55 am

Yes, times certainly changed then.

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