Sweet, Delicious Failure

Jeffrey Wiser, October 16, 2014

I am not a chemist. I am not a builder. I am not a creator. 

These things acknowledged, I attempted to mix and create something the other day. It all stemmed from a twitter conversation I had with a fellow beer geek, Justin Egbert. He was sipping a Narwhal Imperial Stout and seemed to be enjoying it quite a lot. Seeing that Narwhal is brewed by Sierra Nevada, the first thought that came into my head was this: make a black and tan with Narwhal and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Creating a black and tan with this seemingly delicious imperial stout and their classic pale was a no-brainer.

But let me back up a little bit. I’ve long known of the black and tan but never ventured to make one. The only black and tan I’d ever had to date was made with Guiness and Sierra Nevada Pale and it was simply delicious. The separation of colors was intriguing, but the blend of flavors and textures as I drank my way through it was excellent, too. I was hesitant to order it in the first place, thinking that mixing my beers wasn’t a very beer snob thing to do, but my good friend Jason's was strongly recommending it and he won out in the end. I’ve been thanking him ever since.

Given that past experience, I figured a Narwhale/Sierra Nevada Pale was the perfect storm and wouldn’t let me down. I was excited to give things a try and even watched a couple of YouTube videos before I started, just to make sure I knew what I was doing. The takeaways I arrived at are listed below:

  • Fill glass 60% full of pale ale (tan)
  • Grab a large spoon and hold it over the pale, upside down
  • Pour the stout (black) evenly and slowly over the backside of the spoon, dispersing the stout while also breaking its fall into the pale
  • Continue pouring until the glass if full, resulting in a cleanly separated black and tan
  • Enjoy!

That seemed easy enough. I mean, four instruction isn’t exactly information overload, right? I cracked my bottles, pulled my pint glass out of the freezer and proceeded to make my black and tan.

Which failed miserably.

With my pale in the glass, I poured the stout just as the videos had shown, doing everything I could to drop it over the spoon as slowly and gently as possible. When it ran off the spoon into the pale, it simply dropped to the bottom of the glass and swirled around. I couldn’t pour any slower, yet I was getting no separation. Instead, I ended up with a foamy, dark glass full of Sierra Nevada Pale evenly mixed with Narwhal Imperial Stout. Not exactly what I had in mind…

A second attempt was no better and in the end, there was nothing to do except drink the odd concoction I’d created. Which, to my surprise, was awesome! Narwhal Stout on its own is a rich, deep stout which drinks deliciously, although it's a little heavy and rich for some. With the Sierra Nevada Pale mixed in, it was noticeably lighter and brighter, but the stout’s character still carried the day. It had more buzz on the palate than the stout alone, which is very smooth, resulting in an almost velvety texture. While I’m no pro at mixing beers, this ended up way better than expected considering the experiment went nothing like I’d expected. 

But I still wondered why this experiment didn’t work in the first place. My limited scientific knowledge leads me to believe that black and tans work because the pale is more dense than the stout. In this case, mine failed because the two were seemingly very similar in terms of density. Given enough time to sit, perhaps they would have separated, but they weren’t going to last long after my first sip revealed that the monstrosity I’d created was spectacularly tasty. 

If you have any black and tan recipes and or mixing suggestions, please leave them below. I know I’ll be reading closely to see how I can pull this off in the future. Hopefully my next attempt ends up more black and more tan.