Around 1920, the British sent a group of soldiers wearing dark shirts and khaki pants to fight the Irish Republican Army in the Irish War of Independence. These soldiers were known for abduction, torture, and murder, including a 12-person massacre at a 1920 Dublin football match. They were called the Black and Tans because of the uniform.
Today, that name may sound familiar to Americans accustomed to ordering what are often considered stereotypical Irish drinks. The Black and Tan is a layered drink made in a pint glass with Bass Ale on the bottom and Guinness floated on top. Guinness has a lighter density, so, when poured just right, the Irish stout doesn’t mix with the English ale, creating a khaki-colored bottom and dark top. The Irish have a name for this drink, too: a Half and Half, though it’s typically made with an Irish lager or ale.
Americans seem to have a habit of connecting alcoholic beverages to tumultuous and tragic moments in Irish history and culture. It’s offensive at worst and insensitive at best. There’s the Irish Car Bomb, which recalls the 20-plus car bombs the IRA detonated in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1972.
For comparison, imagine if a common drink order in Ireland was called the Oklahoma City Bomb.
It’s not just bars that have made this mistake. Who can forget the 2006 incident in which Ben & Jerry’s released a Black and Tan ice cream? Or Nike’s Black and Tan sneakers in 2012? While large American companies seem to have finally caught on that this isn’t appropriate, many bars still continue to list these drinks as specials on St. Patrick’s Day (or even year-round). Even those that don’t will still probably make them for anyone who orders it, furthering the problematic tradition.
Ireland has a host of noteworthy drinks and proud traditions that in no way disparage the culture — such as the proper Guinness pour and fine sipping whiskeys. Even beyond the blatantly offensive drinks, I’ve seen a range of misguided St. Patrick’s Day marketing attempts that use tired tropes and stereotypes in the past five years while writing about food and alcohol. Here is a brief sampling of story ideas connected to St. Patrick’s Day that have been emailed to me just this year by public relations teams:
“Move over tired green beer and make way for the new St. Patrick’s Day festive favorites — CBD and THC-infused goodies that will have you saying, ‘Kiss me, I’m Highrish.’”
“Punch up your St. Patrick’s Day with this DIY recipe for a leprechaun punch cocktail.”
That said, brands are starting to do better. This year, Bushmills mailed guides to a “real St. Patrick’s Day” with rules like, “The day you actually find a leprechaun is the day you should dress up as one — ditch the green top hat,” and, “It’s a day to celebrate a nation, not embarrass two.” It doesn’t necessarily even have to go that far, though. A Guinness St. Patrick’s Day party in Brooklyn had plenty of beer with zero allusions to the Irish stereotypes that typically plague themed events. Some American alcohol companies kept it simple and positive, such as Narragansett’s simple note of “Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all our Irish neighbors and beyond. Crack open a lager and enjoy!”
It’s really as simple as that. Enjoy Irish culture this St. Patrick’s Day and every other day, but there’s no need to include all the extra cliches wrongly associated with Ireland in the US. By all means, drink, but be respectful about it. If you’re a bartender, keep the Black and Tans and Irish Car Bombs off the menu this year. If you’re a patron, just don’t order them — and maybe consider politely tipping off the owner that drinks have negative connotations, so they know for next year. And leave your drunken leprechaun costume at the door. This year, let’s all aim to do a little better.